The Ottumwa Courier

January 19, 2013

Re-imagining Iowa Avenue

Grant could help city revitalize downtown store fronts

Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — Downtown businesses could see new storefronts and Iowa Avenue could receive a total makeover if the city is awarded two grants from the state.

The Ottumwa City Council next week will review the application to the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Revitalize Iowa’s Sound Economy (RISE) grant program for improvements to Iowa Avenue.

The project would include the full-width reconstruction of Iowa Avenue from East Main Street to U.S. Highway 34, which is estimated to cost more than $1.7 million.

“There’s multiple parts of Iowa Avenue in several types of conditions,” said Dave Shafer, director of planning and development.

Since Cargill Meat Solutions is the largest employer in the city, truck traffic as well as employee vehicle traffic has taken its toll on the street.

“It’s a major arterial street for the city of Ottumwa,” Shafer said.

There are several business owners who would benefit from reconstruction as well, including Messerschmitt Ice, Winger Contracting Company, Millard Refrigerated Services and others.

“When you take all the different service vehicles, employee traffic, as well as product transportation ... there’s a huge amount of traffic there,” Shafer said. “There would be various different forms of miscellaneous improvements, but overall the infrastructure of the street is one through various different phases of construction projects needs to be addressed.”

In fact, from Hayne Street north to East Main Street is still existing infrastructure from the John Morrell era, Shafer said.

Construction would take place over a minimum of two construction seasons, Shafer said. The city should find out in six to eight weeks whether it will receive the grant.

The project is similar to a TIGER grant the city applied for, which was not funded.

“It was a national grant that was extremely competitive,” Shafer said. “The competitiveness is so high. On one of the applications, not a single location in the state of Iowa received approval.”

City planner Nick Klimek said the TIGER IV application was over-requested nationwide by $9 billion.

The RISE program requires a 50 percent local match. Wednesday night’s resolution would commit nearly $800,000 from CIP, with an additional local match pledged by Wapello County for improvements to Iowa Avenue outside of Ottumwa corporate limits.

Public Works Director Larry Seals said his department isn’t 100 percent sure yet how they would handle traffic flow on Iowa Avenue during construction.

“We’re looking at the project in phases. The unique problem with that is there are businesses along there that Iowa Avenue is their only access. There’s no back route,” Seals said. “There’s heavy truck traffic, so we need to allow access 24/7 for those businesses.”

Seals said there are approximately 180 trucks that go in and out on Iowa Avenue every single day.

The council will also vote to approve the CDBG application for the Downtown Master Facade Improvement Program.

The application would be submitted to the Iowa Economic Development Authority to improve the appearance, functionality and long-term viability of the 300 block of East Main Street through facade renovation and restoration.

Klimek said this is the first year the city is applying for the grant and is similar to the funding pool to which the city applied for the Market on Main concept.

“Of the 12 owners in the 300 block of East Main Street, 10 agreed to participate,” Klimek said. “We weren’t able to get a hold of two of the property owners. Believe me, we tried.”

The proposed buildings do not include those currently being renovated or those that have previously been renovated, including the KMGO building, Appanoose Rapids Brewing Company and Market on Main.

He said the goal is to build on the momentum of those three renovated buildings “and carry it down the block.”

The proposal will address the building facades and store fronts.

“The concept is to provide structural and aesthetic improvements to help facilitate downtown revitalization,” Klimek said.

The 10 property owners will provide 15 percent of the funding, with the other 85 percent funded through the grant.

Klimek said the grant could be awarded in May or June and if the city receives the grant, construction would start in 2014.

City staff said another way to look at the program is after completion, 93 percent of the 300 block would have “visually appealing building facades.”

The proposal requests $500,000 in assistance for construction, design and grant administration. Private property owners would contribute $125,000, Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation would contribute $250,000 and the city would contribute $125,000 through its Capital Improvements Program.

The council will meet at 5 p.m. Wednesday in council chambers at City Hall. The meeting will air live on GO-TV, cable channel 6.

Reviewing the city budget

At the beginning of the City Council meeting, the members will also review the fiscal year 2013-14 city budget.

In a memo to staff, City Administrator Joe Helfenberger said the budget prioritizes street and sewer improvements.

He said it would also “decrease the city’s portion of the property tax rate by 3.6 cents per thousand dollars of assessed valuation after the property valuation and rollback are figured into the amount.”

There will be a 1.23 percent increase in taxable property valuation, meaning the city would see an increase in property tax revenue of approximately $125,000.

The average residential property taxpayer will see an approximately 1 percent increase in their city portion of their property tax bill. For a home valued in 2012 at $100,000, the property owner would pay around $21 more for that same home value in 2013.