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Marion Marks 175 Years

By KCRG9 | Updated: Sunday, December 28, 2014 |

MARION — In the past 175 years, Marion has cycled through a lot of brands. Established as the county seat in 1839, it held that title for 80 years until the seat was moved to Cedar Rapids. In 1864 the railroad arrived, and over the next century the town would be an important stop on the Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway. More recently, the town has served as something of a bedroom community for much larger neighbor Cedar Rapids. But with rapid population expansion over the past few years, city leaders are in the process of figuring out what the next brand may be — a process they hope will help the city develop more of its own resources as it grows. “We want to mature to be more than a residential suburb, to be more of an economic island in our own right, more complimentary to Cedar Rapids,” city manager Lon Pluckhahn said. “We want to develop commercial and industrial infrastructure in our own right.” Rebranding In early January, the city will hear results from a branding study done in partnership with Arizona-based consulting company Roger Brooks International. The study, kicked off in honor of the town’s 175th anniversary, involved surveys, interviews and focus groups with area residents. Pluckhahn said the goal is to figure out how people think of the town and how strengths can be better marketed to increase a sense of community. “Marion has changed quite a lot in the last 15 years — we’ve had a lot of people move in,” Pluckhahn said. “Sometimes people identify more strongly with the school districts than the Marion community. Hopefully we will have people start to think of themselves as being from Marion rather than Marion school district or Linn-Mar school district.” He said he wants families who move to Marion for the schools also to stay for its restaurants, activities and jobs. Efforts to that effect already are in the works. The Marion Chamber of Commerce initiated the Imagine8 community visioning process in 2008, a project that generated over 1,800 ideas for improvements residents wanted to see in the town. Eight ideas ultimately were selected to increase quality of life, encompassing improvements to parks, trails and recreation opportunities, as well as an increase in restaurants and entertainment options, an expanded library and free Wi-Fi hot spots. City and business leaders have been working toward those goals ever since. Milestones have included the May dedication of the $1.5 million Klopfenstein Amphitheater for the Performing Arts in Lowe Park and increased focus on the downtown district. In 2009, the Uptown business district was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and in 2013 the community earned Main Street Iowa status. Growth and challenges Former Mayor Vic Klopfenstein, for whom the Lowe Park amphitheater was named, first moved to Marion in the 1960s when the population was around 10,000 people. Marion’s population more than doubled, to 26,294, by the 2000 census, and 34,768 at the 2010 census, a 32.2 percent increase. City leaders think more than 1,800 people have been added since then. Though he hasn’t been mayor for 14 years, Klopfenstein still is an active community advocate. Among other roles, he serves as chairman of the Citizens for Marion’s Future committee. “I’d like to see us push and do an even better job with industrial growth,” he said. “Right now we rely so much on taxation on the homeowners, and some on commercial. The industrial side would really help.” He mentioned planned expansions of Polish company ElPlast and Legacy Manufacturing as positive developments down the road. “Pretty soon, I would hope we could have a community that could stand alone, but we’re not there,” he said. Growth is good, he and Pluckhahn added, but it comes with challenges, such as keeping up with infrastructure and housing demand. The city has struggled to keep up on connecting roads that make snow removal, fire and police response smooth, Pluckhahn said. “We have been catching up. Growth doesn’t come without costs,” he said. “Obviously it’s good for your business base to keep adding customers, to keep adding growth in the property tax base and other resources.” That’s why he’s hopeful the rebranding effort is successful. “We want to know what’s going to be the next big thing, what’s going to be the driver for the city,” he said. “The question is, how do we build on that to make sure we can use that as a recruitment tool to make people want to do business here and move here.” Whatever the future brings, as Klopfenstein looks back at Marion’s history, he said he’s glad he dedicated much of the last five decades to serving the town. “I’m just so proud of the community,” he said. “We came here and raised our family, and we’ve retired here. It’s an outstanding community.”

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