The Strand Theatre at night

Community and College Downtown Partnerships

Connecting Campus and Community

Grinnell College and the town in which it is located are connected by more than a name. Each is immeasurably enriched by the College not simply being in but also of the community. College-community partnerships can be as informal as neighbors helping neighbors, and as substantive as major revitalization projects. 

Since 2012, Grinnell College has been partnering with the Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce and City of Grinnell on downtown development — specifically to intentionally build out the “zone of confluence” between the campus and downtown business district, with the goal of continued downtown revitalization through social and economic activity. These collaborative college-community development initiatives will connect campus and downtown, encouraging students, faculty, and staff to visit downtown and inviting the community onto campus.  With new retail and housing planned, these partnerships will further support the downtown business district.

Downtown Construction Update – July 2024 

Current Zone Projects

Renfrow Hall

rendering of future CEQ

Project Description: Reflecting an understanding of how the built environment can encourage teaching and learning, engagement, and interaction, Renfrow Hall is a unique facility at the nexus between the College campus and the town of Grinnell. Conceived as a gateway that fuses and dissolves the barriers between town and institution, the project presents an extraordinary new model for 21st-century living and learning. A reflection of the College’s unwavering commitment to cultivating engaged civic scholars, the architecture is designed as a destination that weaves the town and the College together in shared experiences. The residential portion of the building houses approximately 110 students committed to civic engagement in modern apartment-style living. The Katherine Howell Weingart ’61 Civic Innovation Pavilion serves as the public portion of Renfrow Hall, offering a unique gathering space dedicated to campus and community connection, collaboration, and exchange while building on a strong Grinnell tradition of community-wide partnerships and problem-solving. Through this project, Grinnell — the College and the town — is poised to become a national model for civic engagement and community collaboration in a rural setting.  

Project Location: 1033 Broad Street 
Project Status: In progress 
Target Projected Completion Date: Fall 2024

All dates are subject to change pending approvals, material, and workforce availability. 

EMERA by Merge Urban Development

ERMA architectural rendering

Project Description: Emera by the Merge Urban Development Group is the first new market-rate housing located in the Zone of Confluence. This project will attract new downtown residents, increase overall activity in the downtown area, and support further growth of local businesses. The building will be open to the general public. Located on Main Street, the building will feature four stories containing a mix of studio, 1-bedroom, and 2-bedroom units, micro retail space for commercial tenants, and a large restaurant space. 

Project Location: 1020 Main Street 
Project Status: In Progress 
Target Projected Completion Date: TBD

The Knapp Film and Media Studies 

The Knapp Film and Media Studies

Project Description: Renovations began in July 2022 on the building near the northwest corner of Broad Street and 5th Avenue to house the College’s Film and Media Studies Center. Dick Knapp ’76 made a gift commitment to support the first academic building downtown. The Knapp Film and Media Center will be housed in a 100-year-old former auto garage that was most recently used by St. Mary’s Catholic Church. The design plans for the renovations were developed by OPN Architects. 

Project Location: 1013 Broad Street 
Project Status: In Progress 
Target Projected Completion Date: 2024 

Broad Street 1000 Block South Energy Plant & Infrastructure

person under solar panel installation

Project Description: The College is continuing to grow its heating, cooling, and power distribution, with further progress in reducing electric and fossil fuel consumption with the ultimate long-term goal of being carbon neutral. The 821 5th Ave building (basement) will be the home of the new hot water boiler plant. New heating and cooling water piping, as well as campus power, will be routed between campus from the 821 5th Ave building to the north, serving upcoming building projects at the Broad St. and Hwy 6 vicinity, connecting with the College’s existing on-campus distribution systems. Site preparation began in July 2022 as the College develops a timeline and plan for the south energy plant project, which builds upon infrastructure and furthers campus carbon-neutrality goals. This work will help connect energy use across parts of campus and to downtown, making improvements such as air conditioning in more residence halls possible. Infrastructure work will include site work in the 1000-block along Broad Street, beginning in early August.

Project Location: Broad Street 
Project Status: In progress 
Target Projected Completion Date: May 2024 

Completed Zone Projects

  • 821 5th Ave

    821 Fifth Ave

    Downtown Office Building

    Project Description: In September of 2016 the College purchased the four-story office building at 821 Fifth Ave. This building houses Grinnell College’s Office of Communications and Marketing on the third floor. The first and second floors house offices for senior and emeriti faculty members and the fourth floor is rented out to non-college tenants as office space.  

    Project Location: 821 Fifth Avenue High-Rise 
    Project Status: Complete 

  • Bookshop

    933 Main Street

    Grinnell College Bookstore

    Project Description: The Grinnell College Pioneer Bookshop supports education and promotes Grinnell College and the community. This downtown location opened in September of 2016. 

    Project Location: 933 Main St, Grinnell, IA 50112 
    Project Status: Complete 

  • facades

    Facades Phase 1

    Project Description: The City of Grinnell, Iowa worked with RDG Planning & Design to improve the facades of 13 different storefronts. Proposed work was reviewed by the State Historic Preservation Office and funding was received in grants through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program as well as the College and property owners. This phase 1 of the project was completed in February 2017. This first phase has inspired subsequent stages of downtown facade improvement by the city of Grinnell.

    Project Location: 800 & 900 block of Broad Street, 800 block of Fourth Ave, 900 block of Main Street, Grinnell, IA 50112
    Project Status: Complete 

Frequently Asked Questions

Grinnell College pays taxes on properties it owns that are not used for educational purposes; rentals, vacant properties, and land not in use, and the GC Golf Course.  

The College recognizes the concern about parking downtown and various solutions are being discussed by a number of city partners.  

The lot south of the Lincoln Savings Bank will be a parking area and staging space for Weitz Construction to use during the Civic Engagement Quad (CEQ) and South Energy Plant projects. This will help keep the majority of the construction vehicles from taking prime spaces around downtown Grinnell.

For More Information

Contact the Office of Community Partnerships, Planning, and Research at or 641-269-3900 for information on rental space at 821 5th or general questions about college and community partnerships.  

Recognized by the state of Iowa in 2016 with an incentive through the Iowa Reinvestment District program, many new developments in Grinnell have been eligible to receive a tax rebate on new retail sales they generate since 2020. 

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