Jim Thompson, a business specialist with Main Street Iowa, fills a wall with Manning residents’ ideas about improving the city’s housing options.
Jim Thompson, a business specialist with Main Street Iowa, fills a wall with Manning residents’ ideas about improving the city’s housing options.

MANNING — Through scribbles on colored sheets of paper, about 50 Manning residents cemented some of their top priorities for the city last week.

In the area of culture and recreation — a splash pad or slides at the swimming pool.

Infrastructure improvements — better television and internet offerings.

Housing — offer incentives to tear down rundown houses.

Shopping and dining — support what the city already has. And, bring in some ethnic restaurants.

A community input meeting, held at the city’s VFW Hall Nov. 1 and hosted by Main Street Manning and Main Street Iowa, urged residents to propose projects or improvements in those four areas, jot them down on color-coded sheets of paper, paste them to a “magic wall” and then vote for their favorites in each category.

The result? A blueprint for future improvements for the City of Manning that was proposed by the city itself, rather than an outside consultant — the start of a road toward a city with a cooler pool, better internet, fewer rundown homes and more local support for businesses.

The workshop, hosted by Main Street Iowa’s assistant state coordinator, Darlene Strachan, and business specialist Jim Thompson, is one of the free services offered to Main Street Iowa cities.

“The goal is to narrow down the priorities and desires of the community,” Strachan said. “Rather than a board of directors saying, we’ll do A, B and C, the community will offer input and determine what A, B and C will be.”

The Main Street Iowa staff members believe that since residents are coming up with the plans, they’ll be more invested in making sure they are implemented.

“You can have a consultant spew a report,” Thompson said. “But this is local people and their ideas. … This is local people’s priorities.”

Through what they called the “magic wall process,” Strachan and Thompson passed around colored sheets of paper and markers, took residents’ answers to four questions and stuck them onto the hall’s wall in sections. Residents then voted for the ideas they and their peers had dreamed up so that front-runners could be determined.

“There are no silly ideas,” Strachan said. “The sky is the limit here. We’re not worried about what it would cost or how many people it would take. If you want it, write it on that piece of paper.”

The questions varied, and Manning residents didn’t hold back with their suggestions.

— What could be done to improve culture and recreation in Manning?

A splash pad and slides at the school. An expanded trail system. Outdoor concerts. A Frisbee golf course. Indoor toddler playground. Continued children’s library programs. Display local art. A ropes and obstacle course. A movie theater. A lake-to-lake-to-lake bike race.

A hot-air balloon at Kinderfest.

Dam up the Nishnabotna River to make a lake. No limits, Mayor Harvey Dales remembered as he jotted down that idea.

— What could be done to improve infrastructure and/or community facilities?

Improved television and internet. Better cell service. Better street repairs. Flashing lights at the corner of Iowa Highway 141 and the Recreation Center. A second gym and an all-weather track at the school. A larger school combining all grades. Optional kindergarten. Cheaper child care. An airport shuttle service. Storm water utility — it has to happen sometime, Dales said.

— What type of housing options in Manning would entice you to consider moving?

That’s perhaps the most important question for Manning, Thompson interjected.

“I drive your streets, and every time we’re here, we look for realtor signs, and there aren’t very many,” he said. “But people want to live here.”

Incentives to tear down rundown houses. Affordable new construction. Free lots for building. Affordable condos. Townhouses. Refurbishing old houses. Rental houses with rent less than $450 a month.

Homes and land that don’t require chores — no limits, remember.

Some got specific: Single-level house, finished basement, laundry and minimum two bedrooms on main level, two-car attached garage, elderly friendly but big enough for family Christmas.

Lakeside housing after Dales dams up the Nisnabotna.

If and when Manning does look into developing more housing, local investors and developers would be vital, Thompson said.

“Developers don’t care what they develop or where — they’re just making money,” he said. “This is why we’d rather grow that attitude locally rather than enticing outside developers who might not care.

“Because you guys can do anything. I really believe that.”

— What could be done to improve downtown or the shopping and dining experience in Manning?

Support what the city already has. Lower high curbs or cut out handicap-accessible areas. Ethnic restaurant options. Secondhand clothing store. Meat locker. Sunday-morning breakfast after church. Sit-down evening restaurants. Outdoor seating on Main Street. A technology store with lessons. A shop-in-Manning “punch card.” Healthful options at the grocery store. A can-redemption center. A tattoo parlor.

“A sports bra,” one participant read out loud. “I mean, a sports BAR!”

“I don’t know where to put that (on the wall),” Thompson joked.

A big part of successful commerce in Manning, though, is better supporting the businesses that already exist.

“We don’t do a very good job pimping ourselves as staff in stores and businesses in Manning,” former Main Street Manning executive director Colleen Nelson said.

With their top ideas selected, Manning residents should move forward with making them happen, the event’s organizers urged. The ideas from input meetings such as this one — this is the third Manning has held in recent years — typically are used in the City of Manning’s and Main Street Manning’s development plans each year.

Main Street Manning board president Ron Reischl is finishing out his final year as president but doesn’t plan to slow down — in particular, he said, he hopes to focus on increased housing options and better internet service in Manning next year.

The sky’s the limit in Manning, the Main Street Iowa staff said.

“We were driving into town, and I said, ‘Darlene, we have to be cautious what we recommend, because they’ll just do it,’” Thompson said.

“Faster than anyone else,” Strachan added.

So it’s time to move forward.

“If great ideas go on the board and nobody will do them, they’ll just collect dust,” Thompson said. “This town is way too competitive for that.

Volunteer — make them happen.”