The Herring Hotel, as it looked nearly 100 years ago.

On Tuesday, March 6th a crowd of people meet at the Belle Plaine Community Center to share in a discussion on this community’s historic hotel, The Herring Hotel. Herring Hotel Foundation (HHF) board member Allan Richards led the evening’s discussion. Richards welcomed the group and shared some insight into his organization’s efforts and current work projects. Building security and safety are two primary areas the board is currently focusing on as well as stabilizing the structure. “Cleaning out the building” is already underway allowing for the next steps to be planned. Richards also shared that the HHF board meets regularly and they are committed to moving their project forward and involving the Belle Plaine community.

The HHF board then shared a short but informative PowerPoint presentation on the changes the hotel building has experienced over the years, evolving with the changing times. From the original 1900 “boarding house era” to its “apartment house days” as the Graham House, photos of these transitions were shared by HHF board member, Kristine Pope. “Change is inevitable…but Growth is Intentional” stated Pope. Today the Herring Hotel project is supported by not just one non-profit group, but by two; the Herring Hotel Building Alliance (HHBA), and the HHF. “Today, you were invited here by the HHF, the group who owns the building and who are working to restore it back to its primary period of historical significance.” The presentation was ended by the sharing of the project’s vision picture, a 1922 photograph of the Herring Hotel, from the building’s heyday.

Next on the agenda was HHF board member, Bob Ausberger who shared information on the Lincoln Highway’s connection with the Herring Hotel and the Belle Plaine community. Ausberger was a former National Lincoln Highway Association president, who also played a leadership role in reorganizing the Iowa chapter back in the 90’s. Ausberger and his wife Joyce are both actively involved in the Herring project today. The Ausbergers are credited with reorganizing the national organization as well, which now includes 13 (12 original Lincoln Highway states plus West Virginia, that was added to the route in 1925 when US highways became numbered; Highway 30) state chapters along the route. The national organization meets annually for a national convention in late June. Both the state and nation LHA organizations support saving Belle Plaine’s Herring Hotel… On a personal note, over the last 20+ years the Ausbergers have traveled much of this nationally recognized byway and continue to do so as much as life allows. Bob shared with the group his emotional experience of visiting the Western Terminus, which is the farthest point west on America’s Main Street, located in Lincoln Park at San Francisco, California. Bob’s passions for this highway and for the Herring Hotel project were both very evident in his talk.

Following the HHF board’s introductory presentation, Richards moved toward introducing the invited guests. In attendance were Greg Johnson – Belle Plaine Community Development Corporation (BPCDC), Phil Borleske – Benton County Historical Preservation Commission & Benton County Historical Society, Paula Mohr – State of Iowa Historical Preservation Office (SHPO), Tim Reinders – Main Street Iowa, Joyce Ausberger – Iowa Lincoln Highway Association, & Matt Miller – Select Structural Engineering out of CR. All honored guest were given the floor with the chance to share information pertaining to their organization/business and also their connection to Belle Plaine and/or the Herring Hotel.

As this meeting was very informal and the public being invited to attend, everyone was given an equal opportunity to participate in the talks, of which many others took advantage of also.

Here are a few highlights:

BPCDC conducted community survey a few years ago, of which a portion of this information was shared by Greg Johnson. These surveys were taken in the Belle Plaine area to learn more about what the community wanted/needed. Johnson stated his knowledge on the Herring project was limited, but he would like to learn more. Johnson encouraging the HHF board to advise the Belle Plaine community more publicly of the involvement of others besides just Marcus & Kristine Pope. He did not know the project involved several other individuals and groups too, who are actively working with them on the Herring Hotel project – “the public may not realize that either. “

Phil Borleske, from Vinton, is the co-chairperson of both the Benton County Historical Preservation Commission and the Benton County Historical Society. Borleske began by saying he has been in the building when he attended a HHBA workshop in July of 2016. He was happy to see work had begun. He also shared; he feels very strongly that this county does not need another museum. However, incorporating this same idea into the plans, along with the lodging aspect could attract as many travelers if not more to BP. He also shared information about the projects in Vinton, of which he is most familiar; giving an insight into the efforts of longevity planning that continues to go into these properties daily. While promoting the history of this county is their focus, keeping them open to the public has been a challenge. His groups are supporters of the Herring Hotel project and “will do anything they can to help the project move forward.”

Paula Mohr, from SHPO, told the group she is already actively involved with this project. Her office manages the funding for the grant the HHF has received to assist with securing the hotel’s roof. This funding was made available to the HHF through Culture of Iowa Affairs back in January. She also participated in the HHBA’s workshop in 2016, and keeps the group informed regarding the resources that are currently available for funding and project information opportunities through the State of Iowa. Mohr then shared information on the importance of having architectural studies done on historic buildings and what the state offers to assist projects like the Herring Hotel with funding and resource support for these studies. She highly recommended the HHF board consider this as one of their next project steps.

Belle Plaine is a designated Main Street Iowa community and the Herring Hotel is located within this designated district. This means the Herring Hotel project can receive assistance through the Main Street Iowa program. Representing this program was Tim Reinders, the Design chairperson for Main Street Iowa. Reinders shared various funding opportunities, as well as the available resources the Belle Plaine community can tap into through Main Street Iowa. Reinders is currently employed by the Iowa Economic Development Authority, but also told the group he has worked in various fields in the public’s eye over the years. He remembered visiting Belle Plaine approximately 15 years ago, and commended Belle Plaine for the improvements they have made on their main (12th) street area. Reinders compared the Herring project to several other projects he is familiar with around the state, feeling confident that the Herring could do the same for Belle Plaine that these other historic hotel projects have done in their communities. Reinder’s services are made available to the Belle Plaine community through BPCDC, the management group which works on the local level for IEDA.

Matt Miller, the owner of Select Structural Engineering out of Cedar Rapids was also in attendance at this collaborative meeting. Miller’s firm was hired back in October by city administrator Jeff Horne, to do a structural study of the building in relationship to public safety. Miller shared insight from his visit, stating his feeling was not very promising on the West Wing of the property, however, “the east portion of the building is actually in really good shape.” His professional opinion, on a structural aspect would be for the west wing to be removed, but clearly stated the project was viable – restructuring and rebuilding was an option for the west wing. Miller also uses SWOT analysis as a reference tool; Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, & Threats. The following was his analysis regarding the Herring Hotel project…

Strengths – Herring Hotel project strength is the east portion of the building.

Weakness- Project Expense

Opportunities – This is a good time to learn more about life safety measures (sprinkler system, enclosed stairwell, handicap accessibilities, etc…).

Threats-Shoring up walls, old materials

Miller shared with the group that he also has a Benton County connection. He grew up in Newhall, and has relatives who live in and near the town of Belle Plaine still today. Miller answered many questions throughout the meeting pertaining to his recent site visit and gave his opinion based on his engineering expertise.

All invited guest had a chance to take the floor, and after everyone had an opportunity to share in the discussion, Richards noted time had expired and the meeting would be closed at 7:30 pm. He thanked all for attending and encouraged everyone wishing to do so, to stay after to visit as long as they would like. This was the first of four collaborative meetings to be held by the HHF. The next meeting date would be set for early June. Details will be made public once information is available.

Also in the audience were HHF board members Marcus Pope & Bev Winkie, HHBA board members, Kim Purk & Miranda Steffensmeier, Belle Plaine Mayor, Dave Fish, BPCDC Executive Director Shelia Hlas, & Benton Development Group Executive Director and BPCDC secretary Kate Robertson, as well as many residents from the Belle Plaine Community and various other local organizations. Comments following the meeting were very positive. All in all this was a great first step towards saving the “Swellest Little Hotel in Iowa on the Lincoln Highway;” Belle Plaine’s historic Herring Hotel.

*See attached sheet for clarification on abbreviations, group descriptions, and Herring Hotel partners and connections.

HHF- Herring Hotel Foundation; a local nonprofit group formed to permanently restore and rehabilitate, as well as maintain and manage the building/site known as Belle Plaine’s historic Herring Hotel. It is the responsibility of this organization to act as the financial & building manager and owner ongoing.

HHBA – Herring Hotel Building Alliance; a local nonprofit group organized to protect, preserve, and share the story of the Herring Hotel. This organization promotes its history through presentations, events, displays, and exhibits, both onsite and at other public venues. It is the desire of this group not only to promote the Herring Hotel, but also to promote the community in which it stands.

LHA – Lincoln Highway Association; A national association set up to identify, preserve, interpret and improve access to the Lincoln Highway and its associated sites.

ILHA – Iowa Lincoln Highway Association; this state association identifies, preserves, interprets and improves access to the Lincoln Highway and its associated Sites.

BPCDC – Belle Plaine Community Development Corporation; Belle Plaine’s local economic development group

CLG – The Certified Local Government Program is a robust partnership between local, state, and federal governments to help communities save irreplaceable historic character. Through the certification process, local governments make a commitment to historic preservation by passing local legislation and establishing a historic preservation commission.

Benton County Historical Preservation Commission – a group of appointed commissioners who advise local elected Benton County officials on matters related to historic preservation and undertake special projects in the county.

Benton County Historical Society – a Benton county organization supported by volunteers dedicated to preserving, collecting, researching, and interpreting historical information or items.

SHPO -The state historic preservation office is a state governmental function created by the United States federal government in 1966 under Section 101 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). The purposes of a SHPO include surveying and recognizing historic properties, reviewing nominations for properties to be included in the National Register of Historic Places, reviewing undertakings for the impact on the properties as well as supporting federal organizations, state and local governments, and private sector.

IDEA – The Iowa Economic Development Authority’s mission is to strengthen economic and community vitality by building partnerships and leveraging resources to make Iowa the choice for people and business. Through two main divisions – business development and community development – IEDA administers several state and federal programs to meet its goals of assisting individuals, communities and businesses.

Main Street Iowa – This program works with a select group of communities committed to exceptionally high standards for downtown economic development. As a Main Street AmericaTM Coordinating

Program, the over 50 communities in Iowa are connected to a network of 40 programs across the country representing over 1,200 communities. This program is managed at the state level by IEDA and the local level by BPCDC.

Select Structural Engineering LLC – a progressive structural engineering consulting firm founded in 2008 that recognizes the need for value engineering with a rapid turnaround. Our friendly staff is large enough to serve you, but small enough to know you. This firm is located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Benton Development Group – Benton County’s local economic development group

Prairie Rivers of Iowa; one of the only nonprofit organizations focusing on both conserving our natural and cultural resources and building stronger businesses and communities, they bring unique expertise to creatively address some of Iowa’s most challenging needs. From assisting small communities in marketing themselves to travelers, to supporting students in becoming environmentally-literate citizens, to training the next generation of responsible farmers and producers, Prairie Rivers of Iowa helps Iowans create a stronger and healthier state.

Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway – A National Scenic Byway is a road recognized by the United States Department of Transportation for one or more of six “intrinsic qualities”: archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic.

Iowa Valley Scenic Byway – An Iowa Scenic Byway is a road recognized by the Iowa Department of Transportation for one or more of six “intrinsic qualities”: archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic.

S&S – Silos and Smokestacks is a nonprofit organization covering a 37-county region in Northeast Iowa covering over 20,000 square miles. A federally designated National Heritage Area, it functions as an Affiliated Area of the National Park Service. Silos & Smokestacks is the connecting element of this regional partnership network. The attractions, sites and communities are key partners in developing the Heritage Area.

Belle Plaine Historical Society – a Belle Plaine organization supported by volunteers dedicated to preserving, collecting, researching, and interpreting historical information or items.

— Submitted by Kristine Pope, Herring Hotel Association