The Ottumwa Courier

March 20, 2014

Loebsack impressed

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — U.S. Congressman Dave Loebsack has now departed from Market on Main, though he left some cash behind.

Like many of the people who visit the Market, Loebsack snapped up popcorn, cupcakes and other baked goods from vendor after vendor. Loebsack had been to the site years ago, a run down, bright purple underage dance club with a few windows and walls knocked out. The change, he said, was impressive.

"This is really astounding," he told Heather Ware, the community market's manager. "I'm a big supporter of regeneration."

Ottumwa businesses, individuals and organizations chipped in to make the idea — first described as an indoor, year-round farmers' market — into a reality. They built it, and visitors have come.

"How's it been going?" the congressman asked a vendor.

"Good. The market's been busy," said Eric Hamm, behind the counter at Jitters Coffee Bar. "People seem to like it."

Hamm, the co-owner, talked to Loebsack for a few minutes, mostly answering questions. Loebsack asked about what kind of demographics Hamm has seen. Old and young, the vendor told him. And with an early day out of school Wednesday, he said, a few high school students popped in. Ware pointed out that the market has free wireless Internet service, which the kids seemed to like.

"At first, I think [people] were coming to see something new," said Hamm, "but it's starting to [diversify]."

"How about the rest of the street?" Loebsack asked.

Ware told him the market is doing what it's meant to do: Creating some buzz about the downtown area, and bringing foot traffic to the area. A state grant and other donations are allowing businesses in the 300 block of East Main Street to get some facade work done. With refurbishments like the Market on Main, Appanoose Rapids, the KMGO building and, one block down, the work on the old cinema, other blocks downtown are starting to respond. There fewer and fewer vacant buildings; a family-owned Mexican restaurant opened where the long-empty Chinese restaurant used to be. And where Main Street Ottumwa had its headquarters, a private business now stands after the owner decided to buy the building.

When it comes to the market, Loebsack said, "I'll talk it up!"

He told the Courier he's seen other communities get the ball rolling in an area with a good, local idea. So is this the kind of venture that can snowball into a larger movement that can bring life to a previously forgotten area?

"It can," he said. "It's up to the community; enough people have to come and support it."

Loebsack helped organizers get funding for a part of the project.

Brad Little, of the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation, had, when pledging support for the idea, said Market on Main can be a launching pad for further development.

“Sometimes projects like this are about more than the structure of a building," Little said when construction was just starting more than the nuts and bolts. They can be a symbol.”

News reporter Mark Newman is on Twitter @couriermark