OTTUMWA — It's not every day you can tour a century-old cigar factory, historic theaters, a new marketplace and renovated apartments all in one trip.
This was exactly the intent behind Main Street Ottumwa's Upstairs Downtown event Saturday. Throughout the day, more than 90 curious visitors walked through five renovation projects at different stages in their progress. The result, organizers say, is a sneak peek into renovation work residents might not normally see.
"We're educating people about the development downtown. It really should be a before-and-after event because it gives a sense of all the possibilities," Main Street Ottumwa Director Bob Untiedt said. "I think it does leave folks with a sense that there are really lovely renovations happening."
Five buildings along Main and Second streets were open for tours. Some are in more in-progress and finished stages of their transformation process, like Market on Main, 228 E. Main St. and 226 E. Second St., while others are just beginning, such as the Cigar Factory and the former Capri and Capitol theaters.
When Brian Simpson bought the old cigar factory at 301 W. Main St. a year ago, he knew immediately it was going to need extensive renovations.
"It was full of junk, just every kind of junk you could imagine — appliances, clothing, business records, auto parts, tires," he listed. "I guess the various people who owned it over the years just used it as a place to put stuff. It was kind of like a warehouse for junk."
Simmons spent an entire month just removing the junk, then he began some of the larger projects. The main floor had been walled off into separate rooms, and he has taken out all of those partitions to return it to the open room it originally was.
His plan is to turn the second, third and fourth floors into loft apartments, but he hasn't made final decisions on the first floor yet. He's playing around with leaving it an open space and using it for a rehearsal hall or a place for wedding receptions, family reunions or meetings. The plan is to keep it as original as possible while creating a livable, workable space.