Reimagining a Downtown Area Following Tornado Destruction


While slowly and steadily encouraging implementation of its decades-old redevelopment plan, downtown Marshalltown was hit by an EF3 summer tornado. The tornado’s instant destruction combined with deferred building maintenance and major shifts in the retail marketplace prompted the City to take action.


The City with help from SEH engaged in a comprehensive community planning process to revivalize and rebuild the historic downtown. SEH helped bring together a collaborative group of local non-profits, City staff and downtown building and business owners, to help stakeholders envision downtown as an attractive and desirable neighborhood where people live, work, learn and play. This holistic vision was described and illustrated in a new downtown master plan organized around three key creative place-making initiatives:

  • Gathering, Greening and Streetscape
  • Movement, Connectivity and Parking
  • Revitalization and Redevelopment

Related Content: How a 6-Month Master Plan is Helping Marshalltown Overcome Natural Disaster

Fundamental to this vison was the notion of improving downtown livability by providing great places and spaces for people of all ages and walks of life. This included a range of new downtown parks from a large town square festival park to a library park/plaza, a system of pocket parks, and the reintroduction of downtown street trees.   

A unique aspect of the master plan was the development of a "flexible kit-of-parts system" for creating temporary and permanent pocket parks to fill in the spaces opened up by demolished buildings. Designed to accommodate both low cost, do-it-yourself and higher-finish, longer-term investments, the pocket park system provides opportunities for a range of downtown stakeholders to create unique and useful spaces while addressing concerns over random, vacant lots and unnecessary increases in parking lots.


  • Range of downtown parks and green spaces, small to large
  • Flexible, kit-of-parts pocket park system
  • Opportunities for meaningful citizen and land owner involvement
  • Financial parameters and pro forma to support implementation

Downtown Parks and Gathering Spaces

City of Marshalltown

Marshalltown, Iowa