The Ottumwa Courier

February 26, 2013

City offers incentive for downtown redevelopment

Legacy foundation president says building is experiencing structural, instead of simply cosmetic, problems

CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — Developers have shown no interest in revamping one building downtown, but city officials are hoping a financial incentive will help change that.

Planning and Development Director Dave Shafer said proposals for redevelopment of the city-owned property at 117 and 119 E. Main St. were requested in June 2012.

“But we did not receive any proposals whatsoever,” Shafer said.

Since the city owns the building, it’s a financial liability.

“If it’s not redeveloped, we have a financial liability as far as tearing down the building, which doesn’t fit the Main Street objectives and downtown redevelopment objectives,” he said.

The redevelopment would make the buildings safe, usable and back on the tax rolls.

In order to encourage redevelopment and steer away from demolition, the city has offered a financial incentive of up to $50,000 to a qualified developer “for the reimbursement of expenditures for a new roof and other improvements.”

“I feel this is a viable solution to saving that building and putting it back on the tax rolls, versus it being subject to the cost of demolition,” Shafer said.

City Planner Nick Klimek said the 60-foot frontage is a large commercial building “at the heart of downtown” and has sat entirely vacant for many years. At one point, the building contained a clothing store, The Hub.

“I personally see downtown buildings as an infrastructure element worth preserving,” he said. “It’s consistent with the mission of the historic preservation commission as well as Main Street Ottumwa.”

Klimek said the incentives increase the city’s chances of receiving redevelopment proposals.

“A few people have expressed interest in the property, but we’re waiting on a formal development proposal,” Klimek said.

Developers have until 2 p.m. March 11 to submit proposals to City Clerk Amanda Valent. The public hearing regarding the proposals will be held at the March 19 City Council meeting. The proposal documents can be found in the planning and development office at City Hall.

“With the time it’s been vacant, generally people are concerned with the structural status of the building,” Klimek said.

Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation has also offered a financial incentive of up to $50,000 to match the city’s contribution, bringing the financial incentive to a total of up to $100,000. Delinquent taxes will be waived or paid by the city prior to disposition of the property.

ORLF president and CEO Brad Little said the foundation first looked at the building on a tour of downtown to secure a location for the Lead Ottumwa Leadership Academy, though ultimately they purchased the former Bookin Jewelry building.

Under the foundation’s initiative, “Reclaiming Main Street,” Little said they are focusing on revitalizing downtown.

“Fast-forward to this past summer when we did our first run at the CDBG adaptive re-use grant to turn these buildings into apartments,” Little said. “That building [117 and 119 E. Main St.] was included in that grant process, but we didn’t get the grant.”

When a team went to Des Moines to discuss with CDBG officials why the city was not chosen for the grant, this building was mentioned.

“It was by far, of all the buildings we included in that application, off the chart in terms of cost per square foot to renovate it,” Little said. “The building’s in deplorable condition, so it got us thinking about how might we help.”

That’s when ORLF came to City Administrator Joe Helfenberger to lend a hand.

And demolition was, in fact, part of the discussion. But Little said the goal is to do everything they can to save the building as long as it’s not cost-prohibitive to do so.

“It’s reached a condition where it’s unsafe if we let it sit much longer,” Little said.

Many downtown buildings have been neglected over the years, he said.

“Once the roofs start leaking, that leads to all kinds of other problems,” he said. “Over the years the leaking roofs, the lack of doing anything in terms of preventive maintenance, has taken its toll on these buildings so now the problem has become structural. It’s no longer cosmetic-type fixes. It’s structural, and it’s expensive.”