After he recieved his master’s degree in Historic Preservation from the University of Southern California in 2007, Brian Zachary moved to Creston with his wife Jean Weisshaar – a Creston native – and built a house just outside town on property where Weisshaar and her family have raised cattle and crops for 59 years. After moving from California, Zachary quickly integrated himself in the Creston community through his interests in historic preservation, art, agriculture and his children’s activities. Through these experiences, Zachary said he saw Creston as a land of opportunity on a “slow, upward spiral.”
“You have heard of a gradual decline or a downward spiral. Well Creston is the opposite of that,” said Zachary. “We are in a slow, gradual incline. An upward spiral.”
Zachary said the renovation of the former U.S. Post Office and the Iowana on North Maple Street were projects he had hoped to see completed in his lifetime.
“Now they, along with the depot and the library, are the crown jewels of our city,” he said.
Zachary believes Creston has “good bones” and praises the efforts of those who invest their time and money in its infrastructure – some of whom have remained in the area and others who have moved away and returned.
“Uptown has a nice stock of historic buildings. Each time a building is sold, the new owners recognize more of the value in it and fix it up,” said Zachary. “Eventually the right business finds the right building. I hate that the Upper Crust closed their storefront, but the building was masterfully rehabilitated and works great for Trinity Day Spa. Carroll Family Chiropractic has done a great job with the building next to that.”
Although Zachary has heard some people complain about Creston’s decline, he sees Creston in the opposite light.
“One of the other things that makes me optimistic are new people starting, joining and taking over businesses,” said Zachary. “They see an empty store as an opportunity.”
Zachary said he believes there are many opportunities to grow in Southwest Iowa and Creston.
“New businesses seem to think the same thing,” he said. “Many young people are taking over established businesses like A&G, Mario’s, Coen’s Furniture and many more. Aric Bishop at the library really rounds out a critical mass of younger professionals adding their time and talent to a renaissance in Uptown Creston.”
Just north of Create Creston, an art store owned by Zachary and Weisshaar, Addam Wall – a 2001 Creston Community High School graduate – and his partners will be renovating three buildings, which excites Zachary.
“The renovation and addition of housing and modern store fronts will only add momentum to this snowball effect. It is an exciting time to be here,” he said. “How do we keep moving in the right direction?”
To keep the city moving in an “upward spiral,” Zachary said amenities are essential. He said they can be anything such as entertainment or recreation, but sometimes they go unnoticed.
“Sidewalks are an amenity that we take for granted. We need to make safe and clear pedestrian (walkways) and bike paths between the major activity centers of our city. This benefits people of different ages and abilities,” Zachary said.
The expansion of technology, primarily cell phone and internet services have led to population shifts around the world and improved economic activity in the areas that support it.
“Now it is possible to do work from remote locations. This makes it possible to move from the city to the rural environment. Our location, in the middle of three large metropolitan areas, attached to the railroad, and close to both the major north, south, east and west highways in the USA, might make us attractive to some other companies that need to relocate,” Zachary said.
In her Condition of the State address Jan. 15, Gov. Kim Reynolds also supported this idea, calling high-speed broadband “critical infrastructure” for rural areas and sought $15 million in her fiscal 2021 state budget plan on top of the $5 million provided under last year’s Empower Rural Iowa Act to improve connectivity across the state in an effort for Iowa to become the most-connected state in the nation.
Among the trends he sees happening – in addtiion to population shifts and young professionals seeking to live in walkable communities – Zachary said the internet has allowed more people to do their jobs remotely and larger companies are starting to have a cultural shift in how they operate and where they are located.
“People of the past moved to the cities to get work. People of the future will do their work remotely, allowing them to live anywhere,” he said. And first-tier cities are full. Big companies are looking at second-tier cities because of amenities and character, but they will soon be full. As the remote economy and the gig economy grow, micro-companies, innovators, are looking to small towns for reasonable rents and space to grow – and a different kind of experience for their families.”
After listening to a radio commentary that analyzed data on the viability of rural communities, Zachary said the successful communities had a few common factors – they were a county seat, had a hospital and a college. Creston has all three.
“It we build it they will come,” he said. “People are on the move and they are coming to Creston. If we invest in making it better, some of them may decide to stay.”
Of course, growing isn’t without its pain, which Zachary said can be addressed through the urban planning process.
“If any of this works, there will be more traffic and less parking spaces, but also more jobs and more customers,” he said. “It is all part of the upward spiral.”