On a balmy July night, Jeff Will pointed up at a building on the corner of First and Broadway in Jordan. A dance studio was the most recent tenant but the building has been vacant for six months.
“Do you see that?” the lifelong Jordan resident and City Council member asked, tilting his arm to show how the building leans a little.
The off-kilter structure is a reminder of a roadblock to downtown revitalization, he said: Who’s going to pay $150,000 for an old brick building that needs structural repairs when a new one can be built for less?
Beautiful old buildings, arguably Jordan’s biggest asset — 15 properties are listed on the National Register of Historic Places — also may be its greatest challenge, he said.
“Some of these buildings become a financial challenge, and that’s my point,” he said. “Is that a city hall problem, or is it just a matter of finding the right person to fall in love with it?”
On this particular evening a small troop of residents, business owners and city staff, members of Jordan’s downtown advisory committee, strolled the nearly deserted streets.
They noted what needs improvement and asked questions: Should there be a sign here? Would it look nice to extend fencing by the bridge? Whose job is it to weed beneath the trees on the boulevard?
Since April, the committee has been weighing the impact of small updates — benches, informational kiosks, decorative paving — to accompany $1.6 million worth of fixes being made next summer, including three blocks of new roads and sidewalks.
The city also is trying to make major changes. Officials used grant money to develop the 2013 Downtown Jordan Master Vision. The 90-page document, filled with recommendations, maps and cityscapes, is intended to guide planning decisions.
Each year, the city puts $50,000 toward implementing the plan, said interim city administrator Tom Nikunen.
But in trying to make updates, the city faces the same uphill battle as many other small, older downtowns in their quest to become a Stillwater or a Northfield.
One problem is the is the “lack of vitality,” said Thom Boncher, City Council member.
Salon owner Jeanna Orris is already in love with the possibilities in quaint Jordan, population 6,300 and growing. But “it needs a lot,” she said of the city center. “Have you seen all the empty buildings?”
Nikunen countered that there are between four and six vacant buildings once recently sold or leased properties are eliminated.
“We’d like zero, but it’s improving,” he said.
Orris, owner of Studio J salon, said that while there are plenty of antique shops around, other businesses are notably missing: a family restaurant, a dry cleaner, an ice cream shop, maybe a place to buy a birthday present.