Marshalltown Revitalization

Kristin and Kurt Polley live and breathe Marshalltown pride. And that should come as no surprise: the high school sweethearts were born, raised and educated in the city where they now choose to raise their own family and build their flourishing real estate firm. 

In nearly all the things they do, they have their love of Marshalltown clearly in focus. And that's exactly what drove the Polley's to act when their town was in need of a bit of revitalization. 

"I like to say it's kind of like Iowa's biggest small town," Kristin said. "It's easy to get involved here because the population is not that large, 27,000 people. So we have a good relationship with a lot of the business owners. It's just been a great place to live."

When an EF4 tornado hit Marshalltown in 2018, the Polley's stepped up to help restore their beloved town. 

"It completely ripped down through our downtown of Marshalltown, destroyed our courthouse. We probably had 20 plus buildings that were on the ground. And I kind of just started feeling a little bit driven to be a part of that rebuilding," Kurt said. 

Kurt began researching opportunities in the downtown area of Marshalltown. He notes that he felt a push to be one of the first people that could open a different business or a new business downtown to help with the rebirth of growth. 

After extensive talks with their family, and a few roadblocks in the form of the COVID pandemic, the Polley's settled on moving from their in-town acreage to a building on the Main Street of downtown Marshalltown. They would live in the top floor residential suite, while utilizing the bottom for a new business venture. 

The building, 119 E. Main, had been home to a number of different businesses, including a dance studio and church. But its latest reincarnation isn't like anything Marshalltown has seen before. 

The Outlet Co-Work & Space was created to meet the growing demand for flexible and collaborative workspaces in Marshalltown. While the Polley's real estate firm is housed in several of the building's offices, the majority of the space is available for rent by individuals and businesses. 

From private offices that can be used 24/7 to collaborate boardrooms and a full-service kitchen, the Polley's found a creative way to foster community in their downtown building. 

Since opening in September 2023, the Outlet has experienced a steady stream of businesses and individuals using the space, with even more bookings already made throughout 2024. 

"There's been a lot of education because it's such a new concept, and in Marshalltown or even smaller towns, they haven't really heard of co-working, didn't really understand even what that means," Kristin said. "So we're still in that education process explaining to people, 'oh, you can come in and rent a meeting space, or you can rent a private office, or you can rent a desk for a short period of time' to suit that need."

Both Kurt and Kristin agree that the response has been overwhelmingly positive when it comes to feedback on Outlet. 

"Some people will walk in and say "whoa, I don't feel like I'm in Marshalltown anymore.'" Kristin said. "And at first I was like, yeah, isn't that cool? But then I thought, Marshalltown deserves to have great spaces like this. Marshalltown deserves to have great spots for people to gather, to work, to play, to have fun. I think the overall sentiment has been, 'Thank you for doing something cool. Thank you for investing in downtown.'" 

Kristin notes that nearly every inch of their block has been redone in recent years, creating a variety of business opportunities. 

"I think people recognize that," she said. "We're just so excited to have had the opportunity, and to have helped the overall momentum of the community. We're happy to be part of that." 

But the Polley's aren't exactly done yet. They both have continued to be active in local economic development initiatives and met with others who have considered leaving their own mark on the downtown area. 

"Kurt says it probably the best, 'We can talk about it. We can encourage people to do it, or we can just jump in and try it and we can be the ones that lead in that," Kristin said. "And I think that's really helped other people see that, 'Well, I guess they can do it, why can't we do it?'" 

Kurt encourages anyone who is considering helping to revitalize their communities to start their research and talk to others. 

"Don't be afraid to try something new and different and take on risks sometimes," Kurt said. "I always tell Kristin and others, I said, when it's uncomfortable and it's uncomfortable for the right reasons, it's probably going to be a good thing. So being uncomfortable and stretching your limits is sometimes okay." 

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