The Ottumwa Courier

February 18, 2013

Changing downtown for the good

The Road Less Traveled

Courier editor

OTTUMWA — A new group hopes to bring audience members to the edge of their seats with a new artistic endeavor in downtown Ottumwa.

REACT, or the River’s Edge Arts and Culture Center Team, hopes to explore and research options for potential uses, offer insight on facility design features both interior and exterior and to create and define a sustainable business plan for the former Capitol and Capri theaters downtown.

The REACT steering committee was created by the Legacy Foundation, which purchased the old theaters last year and is working on the revitalization of these soon-to-be showplaces.

I say “soon-to-be” because the foundation, the REACT committee and so many Ottumwans believe strongly in the renovation and remodel of these theaters that there’s no doubt in my mind that the theaters will shine a positive light on a downtown that has been darkened by deterioration for too long.

“Our goal is to restore these former landmarks to their rightful place as a community gathering place focused on arts and culture,” said Legacy Foundation President/CEO Brad Little in a press release.

The REACT committee, headed by co-chairs Jeff Hendred and Pam Kaupins, also includes members Bill and Chris Abigt, Bill Allen, Holly Berg, Jennifer Boyenga, Larry Gawronski, Zoe Helgerson, Dave Johnson, Steve Miller and Evan Runkle. As the project expands, more committee members will join the group.

And if excitement by committee members is an indicator of what’s to come, then there’s no question this project will be a success.

Pam stopped by my office recently and told me this project is designed to be an inclusive, community-driven effort that will make downtown sparkle.

“We welcome the community’s input, and interested persons can submit their personal stories, memories or ideas for the buildings’ usage to the Legacy Foundation via We know that these buildings have special sentimental value, and we look forward to hearing from [Ottumwans],” she said.

These buildings have sat empty for too long, and they have become, quite frankly, a sad reminder of days gone by for Ottumwa.

But that can change, and the Legacy Foundation and the REACT committee need our support. Perhaps their efforts, along with work being done by Main Street Ottumwa, some individual building owners and others, downtown Ottumwa could once again be a showplace — an example of commercial, cultural and community pride.

It’s time to move forward, and just like Pam and the REACT committee, I’m excited about the possibilities.