The Ottumwa Courier

May 7, 2013

Upstairs/Downtown to showcase progress on rehabilitated buildings

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — The second and third floors of downtown buildings have seen a lot of change in the past year, and now it's time for the public to see the progress being made.

The fifth annual Upstairs/Downtown event will be held on May 18 at five downtown locations: 228 E. Second St., 113 E. Main St., 221 E. Main St., 307 E. Main St. and 332 E. Main St.

Three of the buildings carried over from the event last year: 228 E. Second St. (Shape Up Ottumwa), 221 E. Main St. (rehabilitated upstairs apartments) and 332 E. Main St. (apartments above Appanoose Rapids Brewing Company).

"Last year they were all in progress," said Main Street Ottumwa board president Fred Zesiger. "All three are pretty much finished now."

The two newcomers to the tour — 113 and 307 E. Main St. — contain the Lead Ottumwa Leadership Academy's new space and a "raw space," respectively.

The raw space was previously Iowa Southern Utilities Company with two apartments above, though it sits empty now.

"We don't really have any plans, but we're opening it up for people to see the possibilities of what could be there," Zesiger said.

The event shows the public a mix of spaces at varying stages of rehabilitation so they can see the progress being made downtown, he said. The idea for Upstairs/Downtown brewed five years ago when MSO was working on several projects downtown that it wanted the public to see.

"We wanted people to see that there is stuff going on downtown and it continues to go on," Zesiger said. "There's a lot going on, and a lot of those spaces upstairs people haven't seen — ever. They've been shut up for 50 years, so we're trying to get those upper floors occupied again. It's a process, but certainly if you own a property, you might as well be making revenue off the whole thing rather than just one part of it."

Within the last two years, 20 new housing units have opened up downtown, six of which will be showcased on this year's tour.

"There are still a lot of vacancies on the upper floors, but we're making steps in the right direction," he said.

MSO has received grants and private investments and utilized tax incentive programs to reduce the costs of rehabilitation, including the city's Downtown Interest Buy-Down Rehabilitation Loan and enterprise zone tax benefits.

A couple of grants are still in limbo: a $500,000 facade improvement grant for the 300 block of East Main Street and an adaptive re-use grant to rehabilitate property at 117 and 119 E. Main St. Recipients of both grants have not yet been announced.

"It's fun to see the lights come back on in downtown," he said. "These places have been boarded up, closed up. We need to see the lights come on upstairs and see people down there 24 hours a day."

Upstairs/Downtown event information:

• 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, May 18

• Tickets: $10, can be purchased at Little Bake Shop, Hotel Ottumwa or Main Street Ottumwa

• Buildings on tour will be on each ticket

• Show up at any address to begin the tour

To follow Chelsea Davis on Twitter, head to @ChelseaLeeDavis.