Good Morning America
People gathered on Main Street in Cedar Falls for ABC's Good Morning America remote broadcasts July 23. Cedar Falls and its downtown area have now been recognized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. (MATTHEW PUTNEY / Courier Photo Editor)

CEDAR FALLS - Anyone in the Cedar Valley looking for a vacation destination doesn't have to look far, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Downtown Cedar Falls was chosen by the National Trust as one of a dozen places nationwide as a "distinctive destination of 2010."

The city was nominated in an application by the Community Main Street downtown redevelopment organization. MaraBeth Soneson, Community Main Street executive director, said she had faith the community met the standards set by the NTHP for the honor.

"We were aiming high," she said.

In the past year, Cedar Falls has been named:

  • Iowa's first "Bicycle Friendly Community" by the League of American Bicyclists
  • the "Iowa Tourism Community of the Year" by the Iowa Tourism Office and Travel Federation of Iowa.

Cedar Falls was named on a list of 12 destinations that includes St. Louis, Mo., and Fort Collins, Colo.

"We're in some very good company on this list," Soneson said.

The application had to show Cedar Falls' commitment to historic preservation and a diversity of things to do and places to visit.

Three downtown buildings appear on the National Registry of Historic Places and are in full use. Downtown businesses offer shopping, and a full night life, Soneson said. Another premier selling point was the bike trail system that connects downtown with the rest of town and area parks including the George Wyth State Park, she added.

"They were looking for things that would not only make it a destination for heritage visitors but for active travelers," Soneson said.

Jeff Kurtz provided information and backgrounds on the historic attractions in Cedar Falls. The Oster Regent Theatre building, the Black Hawk Hotel and the Odd Fellows building all sit a few blocks from each other downtown and each appear on the National Register.

"You won't find the same type of building twice," said Jeff Kurtz, director of the Cedar Falls historical society.

The history of the buildings was only one aspect that interested the NTHP. Old buildings don't have much enticement for visitors if they sit empty.

"They are historic and they do provide a context for the development of the community but they are active and probably more used than they were 20 years ago," Kurtz said.

Kim Burger, director of the Cedar Falls Tourism Bureau, wrote a letter of support for the application. The cooperation between Community Main Street, the historical society and the tourism bureau likely was also an ingredient for success, Burger said.

"That's how a lot of projects work," Burger said. "I think that's one of the reasons we're so successful is we have that cooperation."

Having Cedar Falls named a "distinctive destination" does present a minor problem for Burger and the tourism office staff. As the 2010 Cedar Falls Visitor Guides are being readied for distribution, Burger was unsure which label to have printed and applied to the covers. She had two choices - one that boasts about being bike friendly or one that declares the city as the state's to tourism spot. Now she has a third option.

"I think we're just going to buy three sets of labels and distribute them randomly," Burger said.

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