The Ottumwa Courier

May 2, 2013

Economic driver v. community need

By CHELSEA DAVIS Courier staff writer
Ottumwa Courier

---- — OTTUMWA — The question isn't whether Ottumwa needs a sports complex, it's where to put it.

At a planning discussion between the city, citizens and RDG Planning & Design associates Wednesday night, maps of the city were strewn across tables to give participants a birds-eye view.

"A lot of the focus isn't so much a focus on whether there's a need [for a sports complex] — the consensus is there's a need — it's primarily about whether the facility wants to happen as a redevelopment project within the current park assets or if it should be a new development, meaning bringing more park land into the system for that purpose," said Scott Crawford, RDG landscape architect. "Then you could relocate some of the existing facilities ... if it opens up redevelopment opportunities in those parks for other uses."

RDG project manager Cory Scott said rather than sitting in the RDG offices working on preliminary designs, they decided to bring them to Ottumwa to continue to brainstorm ideas.

"We're using the 2001 plan as a base, but being more targeted about how we're going to develop a concept," Scott said. "Before it was giant areas ... now we're looking at specific areas."

But the discussion should always return to what's best for the community, Crawford said, since there are two sides to a sports complex.

"One side is to build it so it's very attractive for out-of-town and regional tournaments," he said. "The other piece is to balance that with what the community's needs are and what the community can sustain over time, because it's very easy to get caught up in the idea of using it as an economic driver — which it can be — and overbuild the facility."

City Administrator Joe Helfenberger said one suggestion included building some facilities on the outskirts of town with tournaments in facilities closer to the center of the community.

"To go out and purchase another 100 acres or so of park land is a huge expense," said Tim Schwartz. "It seems to me to make sense to utilize the space that we have."

The next step is a needs assessment of the current facilities to evaluate the efficiency of scheduling practices, games and tournaments, Crawford said, "to see if there are any abilities to increase the efficiencies of how the facilities are used."

For example, the current soccer fields are over-used and don't get a chance to recover between games and seasons, participants said.

Ottumwa Area Convention and Visitors Bureau director Mark Eckman noted that not every location in town is equal.

"Sites like those close to the airport wouldn't yield as many overnights or commerce to the community," Eckman said. "We wouldn't capture the Hotel/Motel Tax or LOST [Local Option Sales Tax] as would a site closer to the city. The other thing is this is not 'You build it, they will come.' If you build it right, they will come — and more importantly — stay."

One of the most dynamic parts of Ottumwa, Crawford said, is its urban camping.

"There are very few communities where you can camp and then walk a few minutes and be in downtown," he said. "You have a very strong asset in some of your natural resources. With just improvements to access to those natural resources, they could become a very strong component of the system."