2020 All-America City Finalist – Mason City, IA

Mason City Iowa is known as the original ‘River City’ and was the inspiration for the town in composer Meredith Willson’s Broadway hit musical The Music Man. Mason City began experiencing “Trouble… With a Capital ‘T’” when an economic downturn forced several closures in downtown. To address this ‘trouble,’ the community came together to establish a regional strategic plan, Vision North Iowa. This inclusive effort drew from the input of key partner organizations; a diverse steering committee representing the entire region; and stakeholders from multiple cities, chamber of commerce organizations, school districts, banks, local businesses, industry, and the county.

The plan provided a blueprint for Mason’s City’s revitalization and featured projects.

River City Renaissance Project – Mason City Arena
Southbridge Mall, located in downtown Mason City, had been a popular retail hub since opening but recently several retail stores closed, resulting in increased vacancies. At the same time, the North Iowa Ice Arena was deteriorating. The ice-skating facilities and equipment in the arena were in need of repair and substantial reinvestment was necessary.

As both the tenant occupancy in Southbridge Mall and the condition of the North Iowa Ice Arena continued to decline, city and community leaders came together and determined the best solution involved the construction of a multi-purpose arena at the west end of the mall that could serve as an anchor mall tenant and a new ice arena, amongst other things. The community believed that a new, larger, more visible and reliable multi-use arena would allow the users to expand program offerings and attract additional participants to various ice sports and other entertainment events.

The city spearheaded a local referendum and the chamber of commerce formed a committee that “rocked the vote,” helping pass the referendum with overwhelming support. Additional support came from the local hockey organization which pledged to raise 10% of the funds.

This project has allowed Mason City to take a space that was vacant and revitalize it, turning it into a mixture of retail and entertainment. Since ground-breaking, 13 new stores have opened in the mall, doubling the occupancy rate, and established businesses have reported an average increase of over 70% in sales. The arena will continue to transform the downtown into a regional destination for food, shopping and entertainment for residents and visitors alike.

Volunteers ‘Make Mason City Sparkle’
The Mason City Volunteer Program was designed to connect citizens with opportunities to enhance the community by donating their time and skills. The volunteer program educates volunteers of all ages on the benefits of volunteering and booths have been set up at various events to educate residents on volunteer opportunities.

Volunteer projects include:

  • Tree Planting – Students planted 204 trees in the Trees Forever and Alliant Energy’s Branching Out Program.
  • Beautification Flower Program – 82 volunteers donated 1,975 hours of their time to design, plant and maintain gardens.
  • Earth Day – Volunteers participate in a city-wide cleanup and a festival consisting of games, food and educational booths is held in conjunction.
  • The River Float and Cleanup – Volunteers canoe down the Winnebago River while cleaning riverbanks.
  • Adopt-A-Street and Adopt-A-Lot – Volunteers sign up to ‘adopt’ a trail, street, lot, or a section in the community, ensuring it stays clean and cared for.
  • Park Watch – The Police Department and volunteers patrol parks to keep them safe and free of vandalism.
  • Cemetery History Walk – Volunteers portray a person buried in the cemetery to educate the public about the cemetery’s history.
  • Before and After School Program – Kids are provided with a safe and fun place to be.
  • Santa Calls- Volunteers sign up to be Santa and Mrs. Claus, calling registered children to make their holiday extra special.

In 2019 volunteers made Mason City Sparkle by donating 15,130 hours of service, equaling a value of over $350,000. 

5-2-1-0 Healthy Choices Count
This messaging campaign tackles issues of diabetes and obesity, standing for: 5 or more fruits/vegetables; no more than 2 hours of screen time; 1 hour or more of physical activity; and 0 sugar drinks.

5-2-1-0 efforts include

  • Frame Mason City Trail – Frames invite people to walk, run, bike, skate and post a picture.
  • Sickeningly Sweet Campaign – Addresses the negative health properties of sugar and offers alternative ideas.
  • Healthy Food Prescription – Residents receive a voucher from their doctor for fresh produce at their local grocery store.
  • Trees for the Town – Students planted trees, creating a healthy walkable environment and inspiring more outdoor activity.
  • Giant Interactive Family Games Launch – Games are loaned out to various groups, promoting physical activity and bringing people together.
  • High School Government Classes Walkability Project – Students provide input to the city regarding barriers to walkability and students consider walking as an alternative for transportation.
  • Climb N’ Crawl – A soft play structure that provides a free, indoor play space for children.
  • Moonlight Bike Ride – Invites children and adults to decorate bikes while learning about safe riding practices and receiving free bike bells and lights.
  • Fruit and Veggie Tracking Bracelets – Bracelets help kids track when they eat a serving of fruit and/or vegetables.
  • Walk with a Doc – Residents walk while having questions answered by local physicians.
  • NetWalking – Traditional food and drink-oriented networking is replaced by mobile networking.
  • Community Garden Gleaning Racks – Donates produce from community gardens to families facing food insecurity.
  • Active Hallways/Sensory Decals – Small additions to school hallways help bring activity indoors.
  • 5-2-1-0 Childcare Provider Recipe Books – Encourages cooking healthier foods rather than eating fast food.

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