OTTUMWA — Downtown Ottumwa will start ringing with the sounds of hammers pounding and drills buzzing as construction begins on the new marketplace.
Market on Main director Heather Ware said while she has been the face of the project, it wouldn't have happened without the collaboration of several organizations throughout the city.
"My name might be on the forefront, but you all made this possible," she told the crowd of around 70 people at Monday's groundbreaking ceremony.
The 12,000-square-foot, year-round marketplace will feature a farmers' market, a commercial kitchen where people can have their recipes certified by the USDA, a demonstration kitchen for chefs and culinary students, stalls for food vendors and artisans, a small-scale grocery store, an incubator and more. All of this will be contained in the building on the northwest corner of Jefferson and East Main streets, 327 and 331 E. Main St., the former "Plum Crazy" building.
City Planning Director Nick Klimek has watched this project move from conception to construction. After the state of Iowa awarded the city a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant two years ago for a "sustainable community demonstration project," he knew it would become a reality.
"Once it's completed, other communities will look to us as an example," he said.
That wasn't the last of outside funding. Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation contributed $350,000, John Deere Ottumwa Works contributed $100,000, South Ottumwa Savings Bank contributed $100,000 and USDA contributed $62,000.
And "sustainability" is more than a buzzword, Klimek said, since the marketplace will have a huge effect on the community by teaching healthy eating and cooking habits, launching business plans and providing opportunities for local producers to sell their produce.
"I have no idea how to use an eggplant," he joked. "Hopefully Heather will teach me."
With construction launching this week, Klimek said the entire project should only take eight to nine months, with an opening date in late spring or early summer.
Construction will begin on the south end of the building, Ware said, the entrance that will face East Main Street.
"It will all flow pretty quickly," she said.
Ottumwa's own Christner Contracting won the bid for construction, she said, furthering the market's goal of keeping everything as local as possible. And Christner works quickly and efficiently, she said, pointing out flow charts already established to show who is working when and on what piece of the project.
The entire building has been gutted, she said, leaving a lot of exposed brick. But staff and volunteers saved historical pieces of the building to be incorporated into its new look.
"This is the first step in the entire block," Ware said, motioning down the 300 block of East Main Street.
In June, the city was awarded a $500,000 grant from the Iowa Economic Development Authority's downtown master facade improvement program to go toward a $1.1 million project that will revive the block's storefronts.
Penny Grim, part of the original group that brainstormed ideas for the marketplace years ago, said the idea "popped up" at a Main Street conference while she was listening to other cities' success stories.
"Why don't we do this?" she said.
The building, owned by Ottumwa Progress Inc. (now Ottumwa Property and Redevelopment Company) was available, Grim said, and Indian Hills culinary arts director Gordon Rader had been looking for a space for his students to develop their ideas.
"Everyone was enthused, and this kept rolling and rolling," she said. "Then I found the grant and here we are today."
The marketplace is a "multi-fold" business, Klimek said.
"The idea is to get people down here from the region, producers and consumers," he said. "It will provide the community with produce options as well as educational opportunities."
Research by Iowa State University's Leopold Center zoned in on southeast Iowa and found a food desert in downtown Ottumwa. A food desert exists when access to food isn't available within a half-mile radius.
"It showed that something like this could be successful," Grim said. "It pushed us even further."
The marketplace will survive, she said, because of the variety of its components.
"If one is struggling, another will pick up the slack," she said.
The incubator will help those wishing to start a business build up their clientele so they can move on and open their own restaurant, Grim said. A great local business that she and others looked at as an example was Bubba-Q's, which started out as a food shack, became a vendor at different events, opened its downtown location and has now expanded to a larger restaurant at Quincy Place Mall.
"I think this is the biggest project in Ottumwa that has had so many players involved," she said. "It shows that the city is bringing people together to get something going."
For more information, go to www.marketonmainottumwa.com.
— To follow reporter Chelsea Davis on Twitter, head to twitter.com/chelsealeedavis.