The Ottumwa Courier

October 31, 2012

ISU design students help Ottumwa businesses

MARK NEWMAN
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — Downtown businesses get free design services, and Iowa State University marketing students get real-world design experience.

A busload of creative Cyclones came from Ames Tuesday to work with business owners who were willing to listen.

“When I talk to downtown businesses, they tell me they feel there is nothing big going on for them,” said ISU Extension spokesman Himar Hernandez. “Downtown has not been forgotten. This is something we could bring to show we care about them and about downtown.”

Though business owners would have to pay for any redesign to their business, the planning that started Tuesday is free to them. That’s design work that could cost thousands, Hernandez said.

That’s if you can get it at all.

The Bridal Cottage on East Second Street has a situation that creates an interesting challenge not every company wants to take on. The Bridal Cottage is located in a building on the Register of Historic Places. Yet owner Kristie Durflinger has very contemporary tastes.

“A sign written in [flowing] script fits the cottage, but not me. A more modern look [suits] me, but not the building,” she said after the students packed up to head back to Ames.

She’s contacted multiple sign companies. They come up with one design, and if she doesn’t like that one, the company just backs away.

“If I’m going to spend... thousands [of dollars] on a sign, I want it to be the best of several options,” Durflinger said.

She believes most businesses don’t want to start doing a lot of time-consuming design work for free. But the kids who came by Tuesday?

“They were very enthusiastic,” she said.

They took pictures of the front of the building, got a feel for the place — and asked a lot of questions.

“They were excited to take [this challenge] back with them and they said they’d brainstorm ideas,” said Durflinger. “I liked giving them a unique challenge.”

Though the “Design in Action” day was sponsored by the Wapello County Extension Board and South Ottumwa Savings Bank, Hernandez said other entities were at the table to discuss possibilities for improving downtown: The Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation, a mentoring group organized by Gordon Aistrope, Main Street Ottumwa and the City of Ottumwa, which recently began discussions to enforce stricter laws about abandoned or run-down buildings.

“The research shows if you redesign your shops, it will bring people in the door,” he said. “That’s what we want.”