By LAURA CARRELL
Courier staff writer
---- — OTTUMWA — If the heart of Ottumwa is the Des Moines River, why not make it the showpiece of the community?
This is the question the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation is asking after site visits to other communities along the river. Legacy Foundation President Brad Little says this realization made a profound impact on their thinking.
"Everywhere we went, they said it's the river. It's got to figure in, and that was a key moment for us," he said. "There was an ah-ha moment when we finally realized that we can turn the river from a liability into an asset."
Returning to Ottumwa after these visits, Little says the foundation added the riverfront to its revitalization initiative. Finding an expert, Christian Rushing, on a site visit to Chatanooga, Tenn., was the first step to gathering information. Rushing is also working on the Foundations' Reclaim Main Street Initiative. On several visits to Ottumwa, his work has included talking and meeting with city officials, going over pictures, reading the stories and looking at drawings from the city's records.
Over the next three months, Rushing and experts he knows will be speaking with more groups and organizations to learn about needs and wants.
"He's collecting it all and building the inventory," Little said. "The river has been there from the founding of Ottumwa to where we are today. It's clearly a part of our history, and that's what launched the whole conversation."
Also launching is a new website devoted to the Riverfront Renaissance. At www.ottumwariverfront.com, anyone can view the process and see a calendar of projected event dates.
There is also a page for sharing thoughts and ideas on the riverfront. This short survey asks questions about favorite and least favorite parts of the riverfront, greatest opportunities, important elements to preserve and what needs to be added or updated.
"We'll be spending some time face-to-face, but we don't have the manpower to meet with everyone," Little said. "So the website allows everyone to give input. It's really got to be a public process where everyone is comfortable sharing their ideas."
In July, there will be a weeklong public design charette, where the community can voice their opinions, meet with Rushing and his team and see all the maps and drawings.
— Follow reporter Laura Carrell on Twitter @CourierLauraC