THIS IS

This Is Villisca

PLACEMAKING ACTION PLAN

INTRODUCTION

When people hear the word ‘Villisca,’ they likely do not know where the community is located or of its strong military history with Company F. They don’t realize Villisca, though Farmers Mutual Telephone Company, offers fiber connectivity. They don’t recognize that the community offers ready access to nearby outdoor amenities while also boasting easy access to resources and amenities in larger communities. Rather, then people hear ‘Villisca,’ there is one thing that pops to mind: The Ax Murder House.

For too long, Villisca residents have turned their backs on what has put them on the map. While the Ax Murder House represents a horrific event in the community’s history, it is time for the community to change that narrative. This placemaking action plan represents a paradigm shift. For the community to succeed into the future, it must fully embrace the Ax Murder House and leverage it and the visitors it draws to the community, ultimately leading to both population and economic growth.

GROCERY DELIVERY SYSTEM

Healthy food markets are a cornerstone of healthy communities. In the visioning sessions, residents pointed to the then-potential closing of Villisca Foods, the only local grocery store, as a major concern. Though the opening of a new Dollar General stands as a point of excitement within the community, many residents are still worried about the reduced access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Many rural areas lack food retailers and are considered food deserts: areas with limited supplies of fresh, affordable foods. Ironically, some of these food deserts are located in areas where the food is grown.

Source: Rural Health Info Hub

Though there is no quick fix to bring a local grocery store back into business, there is a solution that could bring fresh foods to the residents of Villisca while still supporting regional small businesses. Thirty miles east in Lenox lies Ramsey’s Market, a family-owned neighborhood grocery store aiming to modernize their business by introducing food deliveries.

Currently, Ramsey’s offers deliveries only within Lenox city limits at a small fee of $2.00. However, if the residents of Villisca could guarantee there is consistent interest and need for grocery items, the owners could be incentivized to make the 30-minute drive to Villisca weekly or bi-weekly, depending on demand.

A delivery system wherein Ramsey’s delivers to a local partner within Villisca would be ideal for both parties, as Ramsey’s would only have to make one large delivery, and the local partner would receive additional business for storing the grocery deliveries in a refrigerated area until individual residents or families could pick up their orders at their convenience.

The suggested local partner is local restaurant TJ’s. TJ’s has existing freezer and refrigerator space to store groceries from a weekly delivery from Ramsey’s and could serve as the point of pick up for Villisca residents. TJ’s would charge a small fee, divided over each delivery, to be added to the overall delivery fee from Ramsey’s, as an added incentive for them to agree to be the local partner.

ACTION STEPS

Survey

WHAT

Survey community to ensure need and interest in grocery delivery and demand for specific products

WHO

Steering committee

HOW

Digital survey link to be sent out to steering committee and shared across all platforms to ensure a large response from Villisca residents

WHEN

Q1 2019

Negotiate

WHAT

Negotiate deal with Ramsey’s Grocery Store

WHO

Steering committee

HOW

Provide Theo and Bonnie Ramsey, the owners of Ramsey’s with survey results, informing them of guaranteed purchases from the community of Villisca

WHEN

Q1 2019

Partner

WHAT

Secure local partner

WHO

Theo and Bonnie Ramsey, steering committee

HOW

Enter negotiations with TJ’s to store food deliveries from Ramsey’s until residents can pick up their orders. Incentivize them with a portion of revenue sharing

WHEN

Q1 2019

Launch

WHAT

Launch service

WHO

Ramsey’s and TJ’s

HOW

Spread the word about the grocery delivery service with digital marketing, print advertisements, and word of mouth. Monitor usage of grocery services and adjust accordingly

WHEN

Q2 2019

Gateway Identification

Info Kiosk

Neighborhood ID

Event Banner

Gateway Identification

Info Kiosk

Neighborhood ID

Event Banner

Community Beautification

Each month, hundreds of people come to Villisca to visit the Ax Murder House. The house is tucked away on an unassuming street near downtown and other attractions. At present, however, visitors generally stop at the House and then at the Casey’s on the edge of town, meaning local businesses don’t capture the full economic potential of these visits. To help overcome this, Villisca can add wayfinding signage and strategically place beautification elements, directing newcomers toward local businesses.

In 2009, CHK America commissioned a two year study to research and identify the psychology behind wayfinding strategies… “What we learned is that we’ve got 8 seconds to provide useful answers to a customer’s questions before they become frustrated and walk away.”

Source: Transit Talent

Villisca is strategically located off Highway 71, but there are only two small indicators of the exit along this route. This means that, likely, the only people stopping off on this exit are the people that have already decided to navigate there. Beautification elements and signage about the House and other local attractions and businesses would increase awareness about all that Villisca offers and help draw in new visitors, including those not planning to stop in town.

Though it is easy to write off wayfinding as a superficial investment, a 2008 study in Portland, Maine, showed that wayfinding signage helps visitors navigate physical spaces, increasing not only visitor counts, but the overall length of time visitors and residents alike spend in specific areas. The route suggested to visitors going to the Ax Murder House bypasses downtown Villisca entirely; signage along the route informing visitors of shopping, eating, or cultural opportunities will encourage visitors to branch out from their singular destination.

Similarly, beautification efforts signal to residents and visitors that the community is continually investing in itself. Villisca should use the beautification elements developed at the gateway throughout the community, creating a cohesive community theme. Native plants should be used to lower future landscaping costs and to help manage stormwater runoff.

ACTION STEPS

Design

WHAT

Work with landscape architect to develop designs

WHO

Steering committee

HOW

With support from the Southwest Iowa Planning Council (SWIPCO), retain a landscape architect to design the beautification and wayfinding strategy. Explore if the work can be completed in a pro bono manner. Alternatively, pursue a partnership with the University of Nebraska or Iowa State University and see if the college can focus on the beautification and wayfinding strategy in one of its studio courses. Be sure to engage the community in this process and have them help identify key points of interest to elevate as well as aesthetic preferences. As designs come together, work with landscape architect to determine fee for project.

WHEN

Q2 2019

Fund

WHAT

Secure funds

WHO

Steering committee, SWIPCO

HOW

Using the resources in Appendix XX, XX, and XX, begin pursuing funding opportunities. Explore the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Iowa Living Roadway Trust Fund (www.iowadot.gov/lrtf/resources) and opportunities through the Iowa West Foundation. Begin conversations with the funding agencies before the grant application period is open to understand how to best position Villisca to secure the funds. Consider hiring a professional grant writer or tapping into SWIPCO’s expertise in developing grant applications.

WHEN

Q4 2019

Plan

WHAT

Create implementation stages

WHO

Steering committee, SWIPCO, landscape architect

HOW

After finalizing design and understanding funding opportunities, define implementation phases for beatification and wayfinding strategy. Prioritize the Highway 71 gateway and wayfinding elements that will ensure people visit other destinations in addition to the House. Consider phasing as either location-by-location (e.g., gateway, 1st Street, 3rd Street, etc.)  or element-by-element (e.g., trees, lights, signage, etc.).

WHEN

Q2 2020

Develop

WHAT

Develop construction documents

WHO

Steering committee, SWIPCO, landscape architect

HOW

Make final design decisions and work with landscape architect to develop and release construction documents for bid. Review bids and select contractor. As construction begins, be sure to share updates on social media to generate excitement and share the progress underway in Villisca.

WHEN

Q4 2020

HOUSING

As in nearly every other community, housing presents a significant challenge in Villisca. This challenge presents itself differently in each city. Data from the US Census Bureau provides some insights into the situation in Villisca:

  • 53% of occupied housing units were built before 1939
  • Only six new homes have been built in the last 19 years
  • 156 one-person households, up from 106 one-person households in 2010
  • 165 renter-occupied housing units, up from 125 renter-occupied housing units in 2010
  • $55,300 median value of owner-occupied units
  • $613 median rent

Source: Census Bureau American Fact Finder

While the Census data allows one to draw the conclusion that there is a housing shortage in Villisca based on the increased number of one-person households coupled with the construction shortage, the issue is further compounded by issues with property maintenance throughout town. This is not a singular occurrence in Villisca; rather, it is a singular challenge that persists throughout nearly every rural community from the Midwest to the Mississippi Delta.

Fortunately, there are a number of tools available to begin addressing both the number of units available as well as their conditions. Potential solutions are laid out in the following sections.

Volume of Available Homes

Second Story Units

Villisca is fortunate to have a core of architecturally interesting buildings in its core; many communities have lost these gems. While there are some buildings with significant structural issues around the square, there also are many buildings that present prime opportunities for second story units. Of the 39 parcels in the business district, 33 are home to a business. Villisca community leaders need to:

“Rural communities also can’t thrive without access to housing. Businesses in rural Iowa are growing and hiring, but the employees they need won’t make the move if there’s no place for their family to call home. I am therefore requesting that we double the amount of workforce housing tax credits that are set aside for rural communities, putting the total at $10 million.  I’m also asking that these tax credits be competitive, meaning that they will go to those projects that are well planned, not just first in line.”

– Governor Kim Reynolds, 2019 Condition of the State Address

INTRODUCING VISITORS TO VILLISCA

A significant opportunity to introduce people to downtown Villisca without them moving to town lies in short-term rentals such as Airbnb or VRBO. Currently, the nearest such rental is just outside of Bedford, more than 20 miles from Villisca. With the draw of the Ax Murder House, Villisca undoubtedly needs more short-term rentals, and second story units are an easy way to fill this need. These units are popular with visitors because of their usual location in the center of a community and ease of access to restaurants, bars, etc. Furthermore, a short-term rental may generate more income for the building owner than a traditional rental.

Additionally, Villisca may explore another Airbnb-inspired endeavor. It was recently announced that the company is working with Grottole, Italy, a community of only 300 people that has 600 vacant homes. In short, the program will select four people to live in the community for three months with free housing and up to $1,000 of living expenses covered each month. According to one Airbnb official, “We will find every way possible to support sustainable tourism, and give visibility to these rural areas.” The hope is that people taking advantage of this program will bring new skillsets to town and that it will allow communities yet another way to preserve themselves. Also of note is the potential press that could accompany such a program, thereby encouraging even more tourism to the community. While perhaps not quite as picturesque as Grottole, Villisca does have an interesting history.

  • Grattole
  • Grattole
  • Grattole
  • Grattole

Convene a meeting of these property owners to gauge interest in developing second story units, determine what opportunity exists in each building, and understand what incentives need to be established

Knowing millennials and baby boomers will be the largest demographics for the second story units, host workshops with these groups to understand what they might want in downtown units

Establish goals for the second story program; consider how many units incentives could realistically be established, the vision for downtown, the demand for rentals, and changing demographics

Work with city officials, Montgomery County Development Corporation, the Southwest Iowa Housing Trust Fund (SWIHTF), the State of Iowa, and private businesses to establish an incentive package to help interested building owners renovate the upper levels of their respective properties; these incentives may include tax abatement, Tax Increment Financing (TIF), grants, or low interest loans

Reconvene business district property owners and share the available incentives

Work with interested property owners to secure architects, engineers, construction teams, bank relationships, etc., to ensure second story units are developed and the program is a success. Be sure to max out incentives for the first five years at a minimum; the program will take some time to establish, and its true value will be shown when units are renovated over a number of years, ultimately leading to a critical mass of people living downtown.

When the first units are complete, work with property owners to take professional photographs to use in advertising for the program. Consider using a professional stager to enhance the attractiveness of the units.

Infill Program

It goes without saying that Villisca must take a comprehensive approach to addressing its housing challenges. While apartments and condos are important, new single-family, duplexes, and fourplexes should also be constructed. It is evident that new construction is more expensive than renovating an existing building; however, one strategy to offset the typical costs associated with new development is to focus on infill development. By constructing new units where infrastructure already exists, developers and, eventually, homeowners are able to save significantly. To accomplish this, Villisca leaders need to:

UNCOMMON INCENTIVES

Communities across the country have devised innovative incentive programs to entice people to move to their respective communities. Each is unique in its scale and scope, but the following are intended to inspire Villisca leaders to think beyond the more typical tax incentives.

Marne, Iowa

The City of Marne gives people who are going to build a home in the community a free lot to build on. The home can be conventional construction or prefabricated. Lots range in size but average about a quarter of an acre. The application and requirements can be found in Appendix A.

State of Vermont

A new program enacted beginning in January 2019, the Vermont Legislature created the Remote Worker Grant Program to incent people to move to Vermont while working for businesses not located in the state. Participants in the program may receive up to $10,000 over two years to assist with the actual costs to relocate as well as computer software or hardware, broadband access, and a membership in a co-working space. More information can be found in Appendix B.

Newton, Iowa

Newton’s housing initiative provides $10,000 cash to people buying a new home in the community. Furthermore, they also throw in a “Get to Know Newton Welcome Package” that is valued around $3,000. Permit and inspection fees are waived as well.

Inventory vacant lots and vacant buildings

Gauge willingness of owners of vacant lots and buildings to remediate the issue or sell the lot; if necessary, be prepared to go through the tax sale process to acquire the lots and buildings. Some of the buildings may present public safety hazards, so there is an opportunity to financially compel owners to cooperate with the community.

Based on findings of the inventory and discussions with property owners, develop a strategic plan to tackle the challenge; it is recommended to focus on a smaller geographic area to more effectively boost property values in that area of town before moving onto the next area

As with the second story units, consider an incentive program in partnership with the city, Montgomery County Development Corporation, SWIHTF, the State of Iowa, and private businesses

Quality of Homes

Like most communities, blight is a challenge in Villisca. For some homeowners or landlords, property maintenance issues arise due to financial issues. For others, it is a lack of pride in ownership that leads to these issues. Regardless of why they arise, Villisca must address both existing challenges with the quality of homes as well as work to prevent future challenges.

Property Maintenance Standards & Rental Inspection Program

One of the first steps in improving the quality of homes in Villisca is establishing property maintenance standards. These standards would shift maintenance from an option to a legal requirement, protecting and growing property values throughout the community. It also would protect the health, safety, and welfare of residents.

However, a minimum property maintenance code is not enough. The City need to commit to enforcing the policy; it does no good to create a policy if there is no action behind it. Recognizing that staffing this kind of program can be a challenge, it is recommended that Villisca seek to partner with the City of Red Oak as it launches this program. Red Oak has adopted various measures over the years to address these kinds of challenges, so it makes sense to partner with and learn from them.

RENTAL INSPECTION PROGRAM

The property maintenance standards should be coupled with a rental inspection program. Like the property maintenance standards, the International Property Maintenance Code should serve as the basis for the rental inspection program.

The City of Red Oak launched a rental inspection program around four years ago. In the first phase of their program, officials inspected the 700 rental properties, including houses and apartments, in the community. With this work complete, officials are now revisiting the properties and getting tougher in their reviews.

However, there are alternate methods to pursue as the rental inspection program launches. The City of Clive in the Des Moines metro has a three-tiered approach to compliance: Self-inspection, audit inspection, and complaint inspection. In short, self-inspection allows the property owner to register their unit(s) and then to conduct the inspection using a form from the City. Under the audit inspection, the City reviews the submitted reports and then selects approximately 17% of the units to review each year; this means that audit inspections operate on a six-year cycle. Finally, under the complaint inspection, the City responds to inquiries from tenants. An in-depth description of the Rental Inspection Guide can be found in Appendix C, and the Rental Housing Program Guidelines can be found Appendix D.

Develop and adopt a housing code to address both minimum property maintenance standards and rentals using the International Property Maintenance Code as a starting point; the City of Red Oak has adopted the 2012 version. Tailor the code as need for the community and adopt at the Council level.

Working with the other area communities and SWIHTF, design a local enforcement mechanism. It will be imperative to determine staffing needs, priority nuisances to address, means of resolving complaints, and funding commitments from the partner organizations.

If Villisca chooses to partner with another community and/or SWIHTF, commit to ongoing collaboration with a formalized agreement. Seek to work with a lawyer in a pro bono capacity if possible and include language on the responsibilities of each entity as well as their respective financial commitments.

Hire enforcement staff or assign these new duties to existing staff if capacity exists. It will be critical to provide proper training to ensure effective enforcement and, ultimately, an increased taxable valuation.

Blight Remediation Program

The final component recommended to address Villisca’s housing challenges is a blight remediation program. This will complement the other programs outlined above and will allow the City to take an even more proactive approach to community betterment.

Establish parameters to define ‘blight’ in Villisca and develop a scoring system to weight various components of blight; a sample can be found in Appendix E.

Inventory properties throughout the community to assess blight using the tool created in step 1. It will be important to categorize the homes defined as ‘blighted’ into two overarching groups: Those that should be demolished and those that should be rehabilitated.

For the homes that can and should be rehabilitated:

Work with SWIHTF to access their Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding. This is designed to “provide repairs to bring homes up to Iowa Minimum Housing Rehabilitation Standards. Assistance is provided as a 5-year forgivable loan. Requirements include, but are not limited to, residing within the target area, income qualified, home must be the primary residence of the owner, and must apply within the posted time frame. Applicants are selected by an appointed housing committee.” It will be important for local leaders to help SWIHTF leaders understand the City’s coordinated and comprehensive strategy. This will position the City for greater success in securing the funds.

With this information in hand, work with property owners to understand their willingness to address the blight and to understand if they will meet the CDBG requirements. If property owners do not meet the requirements, the City should work with area foundations to provide seed funding for a revolving loan fund that can support home improvements. With unknown funding request levels, this fund should initially be targeted, looking perhaps at priority corridors, homes near the business district, or homes where children live.

Continue to work with willing property owners to make the enhancements to their respective homes. Make it easy for them by creating a list of area architects, engineers, plumbers, electricians, painters, construction teams, general contractors, landscapers, etc. If multiple people choose to work with the same teams, there may be some economies of scale.

THE COST OF DEMOLITION

Demolition of a home costs, on average, anywhere from $4 to $15 per square foot. Fortunately, that number is generally lower in smaller communities. If one estimates an average home size of 1,500 square feet, they could plan on anywhere from $6,000 to $22,500 for demolition costs. Then consider that SWIHTF will pay 50% of demolition fees for City-owned properties, and the cost shrinks to a range of $3,000 to $11,250. At this rate, the City could demolish between 4 and 16 homes per year, meaning this challenge could be addressed in just a few years.

For the homes that need to be demolished:

Work with property owners to understand if they are willing to complete the demolition or if they are willing to turn the property over to the City.

If the property owner is going to take care of the demolition on their own, be sure to agree upon a timeline and any stipulations for the lot that remains after. Be prepared to rely on the enforcement staff described in the preceding section to ensure these stipulations are met.

If the property owner is going to turn the property over to the City, work with entities that may have claims on the properties in question to forgive any outstanding taxes, liens, etc. This will allow the City to move forward with the property free and clear, making eventual redevelopment much easier. Additionally, when the property has been turned over to the City, work with SWIHTF to secure a Demolition Grant; this program “assists cities in eliminating dilapidated housing units in their communities. SWIHTF will pay for 50% of costs for asbestos inspection, abatement, and demolition of city owned structures, leaving the property a clean, level lot.” The application can be found in Appendix F.

Tap into the revolving loan fund described above to pay for the remainder of the demolition costs. Alternatively, the City could budget for demolition work each year. Begin with a minimum $50,000 per year and adjust in future years based on demand. If the City is able to dedicate more money to this program, it will obviously be able to address this issue in a shorter timeframe.

After the structure is demolished, market, market, market! Consider adopting a program similar to Marne’s whereby the City would give the lot to people who commit to building a home of a certain value there.

Axtober

As has been described, Villisca’s Ax Murder House draws hundreds of people to the community each month. Additionally, alumni come back to town for Heritage Days in the summer, and several other events that draw people to town are held throughout the year. Up to this point, however, the community has not developed a comprehensive strategy to leverage its assets – chiefly the Ax Murder House – and bring more people into town, which ultimately will help the local economy and quality of life.

With a history as rich as ours, it makes sense that we have a whole host of museums and attractions. What will you explore?

Source: Salem Attractions: Witch Trials

It is understandable that some community members are hesitant to capitalize on such a tragic event. However, the Ax Murder House already does exactly that, commanding $428 for overnight visits for groups from 1 to 6 people and another $75 for each person beyond that. Villisca is known nationally for the Ax Murder House, and it is time for the community to embrace that horrific event and transform it into a positive.

To overcome this, community leaders must work alongside school district leaders to forge ahead together. Community leaders see the need to build a child care center but understand the enormous costs associated with new construction. Fortunately, Villisca has numerous buildings that are centrally located and are ripe for redevelopment. While a number of buildings could be renovated for a daycare, the best option for the community is to locate a couple of dedicated daycare rooms in the school.

It is also recommended that the community move Heritage Days to October, either the first or last weekend of the month, to capture a larger audience and build the audience for Axtober. Attendance at Heritage Days has declined in recent years, and making it part of a larger series of programming provides the chance to reinvigorate the community celebration while simultaneously introducing more people to Villisca.

Fat tire biking is the latest in hot outdoor experiences. With their 3.7” to 5″ wide tires, fat tire bikes are equipped to handle sand, snow, and gravel. They thrive where other bikes fail and offer people a new experience on a favorite pastime.

The fat tire ride should begin and end at the square. It should head east out of town and then, depending on expected turn out, offer one or two routes of differing distances to accommodate a mix of riders.

Axtober Fat Tire Ride Map

Organizers should take advantage of the ride terminating at the square and transition the ride to a community celebration. A band should be brought in to play, food trucks should be secured, and Rolling Taps Beer Coe should be brought into town.

Rolling Taps requires a minimum guarantee of $1,800, which includes 3 kegs of the organizers’ choice, certified staff, bar setup and teardown, their vintage truck, insurance, and liquor license. The company also takes care of off duty police officers if required. With nearly 500 pours in the kegs at $6 each, the profit from the beer ($2,970) would more than cover the fee for the truck, meaning organizers would not be charged for anything. To date, Rolling Taps has exceeded the minimum spend at all of their events.

Rolling Taps

Alternatively, reach out to New Belgium Brewing and see if they would consider sponsoring the ride and community celebration. Given their Fat Tire Amber Ale and Villisca’s unique history, this partnership may be appealing to New Belgium.

The last weekend of Axtober should put the exclamation point on the month. During the day, a community costume parade should bring residents of all ages downtown to celebrate Halloween. This will result in two big wins: Young people experiencing strong social connections in town and local businesses seeing an influx of visitors.

In the evening, a costume ball should function as a fundraiser for a different project each year. The costume ball should have a unique theme from year to year to keep things interesting and to ensure people continue to come back year after year. Each year’s theme should relate to the projects the funds will support that year. For instance, if the funds raised will support community beautification efforts, the theme could be 1960s flower power, whereas the support of a building restoration project could tie to an old Hollywood glamour theme. This fresh take each year also will help the costume ball build a strong reputation and extend its reach beyond Villisca and even Montgomery County.

Costume Ball Budget

Expenses
Item Quantity Cost per Unit Total
Building Rental 1 $ $
Decorations 1 $1,500 $1,500
Food 50 $20 $1,000
Drink 50 $12 $600
 Expenses Total $3,100
Income
Item Quantity Cost per Unit Total
Sponsorship 1 $4,000 $4,000
Sponsorship 3 $2,500 $7,500
Sponsorship 5 $1,000 $5,000
Ticket Sales 50 $40 $2,000
Income Total $18,500
Revenue $15,400

The second weekend of Axtober should cater to movie buffs and those beginning to get in the spirit of the season. The day should include a variety of seasonally-themed screenings. Movies shown earlier in the day should be kid-friendly, and the movies should get progressively scarier as the day goes on.

Host the screenings in a vacant (or partially vacant) building on the square to elevate the experience and add to the draw. There are no similar events in the area, so Villisca can draw people from a broader area and introduce people to the community in another way.

Work to secure sponsors for the event and charge a small entry fee. Find a willing building owner that will donate use of their building, and seek out an individual funder or grant to cover licensing for the films; these fees typically range from $250 to $600 depending on the studio, film, and event date.

Suggested Films:

  • Monsters, Inc. (G – 92 minutes)
  • Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (G – 95 minutes)
  • Casper (PG – 110 minutes)
  • Ernest Scared Stupid (PG – 92 minutes)
  • Ghostbusters (PG – 107 minutes)
  • Hocus Pocus (PG – 96 minutes)
  • It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (PG – 25 minutes)
  • Nightmare Before Christmas (PG – 76 minutes)
  • Addams Family (PG-13 – 110 minutes)
  • Monster Squad (PG-13 – 82 minutes)
  • Sixth Sense (PG-13 – 130 minutes)
  • Scream (R – 111 minutes)
  • Sleepy Hollow (R – 105 minutes)

The third weekend of Axtober should aim to draw people with yet another interest – the paranormal – to Villisca. The community should put together a paranormal summit working with one of the many paranormal societies in Iowa. There also is the opportunity to partner with the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s paranormal society. Event organizers should use the following framework as a starting point to plan the summit:

  • Witness testimony
  • Certified investigators
  • Case studies
  • The science of the paranormal

Organizers should put the event together in collaboration with the Ax Murder House. While there is hesitation from those involved with the House to participate in an event dubbed “Axtober,” the summit has the potential to increase the number of visitors to the House and community even more and spread the economic impact across all of Villisca.

ACTION STEPS

Team Up

WHAT

Establish Axtober leadership team

WHO

Steering committee

HOW

Using steering committee as a starting point, identify key doers in the community to take the Axtober concept laid out in this strategy and bring it to life. Establish an overall team and assign leadership roles within this group for each weekend; if the event is everybody’s job, it’s no one’s job.

WHEN

Q1 2019

Plan

WHAT

Plan inaugural Axtober

WHO

Axtober leadership team

HOW

With the aforementioned framework in place, establish a schedule for regular check-in calls and/or meetings as well as key milestones to ensure Axtober events are executed as envisioned. Bring in key community and regional partners with appropriate expertise. Understand that the programming will grow and evolve over the years, so be ready to adapt; a key to success will be fostering an inclusive planning process that responds to new ideas.

WHEN

Q2 2019

Promote

WHAT

Promote Axtober

WHO

Axtober leadership team

HOW

As plans are firmed up, promote, promote, promote! Participate in radio and newspaper interviews, develop a website, and use multiple social media channels. Launch an Axtober Ambassadors campaign in which organizers share pre-developed content with Ambassadors to make it easy to share a consistent message across the community. Develop a hashtag (e.g., #axtober2019) for Ambassadors and attendees to use as well.

WHEN

Q3 2019

Axtober Ambassadors

The Axtober leadership team should arm Axtober Ambassadors with messaging and images to share on their respective social media channels. Build a database of existing contacts to begin and then grow the list from there. People will be more likely to share a message that is pre-written for them rather than having to develop content on their own. Make sure to include the #axtober2019 hashtag with all of these posts.

How to Build a Social Media Ambassador Program: Sixty-six percent of people around the world say they trust earned media — including recommendations from friends, family and online reviews — above all other forms of advertising. Consumer brands and nonprofits are harnessing the power of social media ambassadors to build excitement and spread the word about new products or initiatives. Social ambassadors can help raise brand awareness, drive website traffic, generate sales or donations, and grow brand communities. Unlocking the power of social media ambassadors is essential to meeting your digital marketing and business goals.

Source: Social Factor

Babson College: The Social Media Ambassadors provide key insights into life at Babson and tell true Babson stories—appreciated by the entire community.

Source: Babson Social Media Ambassadora

University of Virginia Darden School of Business: The Social Media Ambassador Program is an easy way for alumni to help share the amazing accomplishments and news coming out of Darden. We curate “social-sized” snippets from the best news from Darden and share them in monthly emails. All you have to do is copy and share them on the social channel of your choice.

Source: Darden SOB Social Media Ambassadora

Daycare

Over the last five years, Iowa has lost 40 percent of its childcare providers. This has resulted in increased rates, meaning that even many families who have access to daycare can no longer afford it. In turn, this has left many adults – primarily women – out of the workforce, compounding the issue of trying to afford daycare. Rural communities like Villisca are hit especially hard by this lack of daycare, as parents and guardians must travel further to reach daycare providers, thereby exacerbating the challenge of finding affordable child care.

The Iowa Women’s Foundation found that “access to affordable, high-quality care provides a competitive advantage to businesses in attracting and retaining talent, and increasing productivity and employee satisfaction while reducing absenteeism. It also impacts their children’s health, well-being, and future academic and career success. These benefits come back to businesses by building a strong future workforce.”

Source: Iowa Women’s Foundation

An Iowa Women’s Foundation initiative confirmed this challenge. Half of the communities the Foundation engaged with identified the lack of affordable, quality child care as their top concern.

While Villisca has a number in-home child care providers, it does not have any licensed centers. Community leaders see this as a significant challenge, especially given the proximity of the highly-rated Stanton Child Resource Center.

To overcome this, community leaders must work alongside school district leaders to forge ahead together. Community leaders see the need to build a child care center but understand the enormous costs associated with new construction. Fortunately, Villisca has numerous buildings that are centrally located and are ripe for redevelopment. While a number of buildings could be renovated for a daycare, the best option for the community is to locate a couple of dedicated daycare rooms in the school.

The school building already is set up for children and meets various code requirements as set forth by the Iowa Department of Education. It allows youth in the daycare rooms to get comfortable in the school building before officially starting there, easing the transition as they grow. Further, if they have children of different ages, it allows parents and guardians to make one-stop, creating efficiencies in their day.

Officials will need to determine how exactly the daycare functions and what the relationship with the school is. Will the daycare be set up as a nonprofit with a long-term lease agreement with the school district, or will the school district decide to take on the daycare within its own operation? There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to each approach. Top considerations in this discussion should be capital funding, revenue generation, and hiring procedures.

ACTION STEPS

Team Up

WHAT

Develop project leadership team

WHO

Steering committee, school district leadership

HOW

Work with McClure to determine daycare team co-chairs and remaining team members. Partner with Montgomery County Development Corporation, Iowa State University Extension, or SWIPCO to complete formal market analysis.

WHEN

Q1 2019

Estimate

WHAT

Determine financial feasibility of daycare

WHO

Daycare leadership team

HOW

Work with architect to design buildout and develop a cost estimate for renovation. Determine funding capacity of school district and then develop funding strategy, looking at grants, low-interest loans, in-kind contributions, and philanthropic opportunities. For the fundraising stream, look at people who have ties to Villisca and leverage VAFA.

WHEN

Q2 2019

Build

WHAT

Build daycare

WHO

Daycare leadership team

HOW

With funding largely secured, begin buildout. Work with architect to finalize design documents and to create construction documents. Seek bids on work, following appropriate procurement rules depending on how daycare is set up. Review price and  construction schedule, and consider proximity to Villisca; it is always preferable to keep money in the local economy if possible.

WHEN

Q1 2020

Hire

WHAT

Hire staff

WHO

Daycare leadership team

HOW

Advertise, interview, and hire staff. Look for a range of experience and credentials to ensure daycare can attain a high rating and thereby attract more families. At the same time, begin advertising openings at the daycare. As the buildout occurs, share sneak peek photos and videos to excite the community and build local champions that will help spread the word. When staff is hired, the buildout is complete, and the first children are enrolled at the daycare, host a grand opening celebration.

WHEN

Q3 2020

CONCLUSION

Villisca is in a unique position in that it already has name recognition, giving it a head start that so many of Iowa’s 900-some communities could only imagine. With this plan in place and continued leadership development, Villisca is going to parlay that advantage into long-lasting success.

However, this plan itself is not enough. The steering committee must engage other community leaders to see the vision through. A community cannot succeed over the long-term if only a dozen people are guiding its future. The bench must be expanded. If it is not, current community leaders will burn out, and the community will be forced to start over with new leadership. Leverage the momentum of sharing this placemaking plan and build teams around each initiative. While there likely will be overlap between the teams, make sure that different people are charged with guiding each project to fruition; if something is everyone’s responsibility, it is no one’s responsibility.

The pieces are in place for Villisca to thrive into the future and to establish an identify that builds on the Ax Murder House and expands that history in a respectful manner. Find the leaders that believe in that vision and continue to grow them from within the community and beyond. There is no question there will be doubters and naysayers, but continue to press on. When completed, the work outlined here will boost Villisca’s competitive position – and that’s something that’s hard to deny.

APPENDICES