The Ottumwa Courier

June 18, 2013

Storefronts to get a big facelift

By CHELSEA DAVIS Courier staff writer
Ottumwa Courier

---- — OTTUMWA — A fresh set of facades in one city block could build momentum for the revitalization of downtown Ottumwa.

The city has received conditional approval for a $500,000 grant from the Iowa Economic Development Authority’s downtown master facade improvement program to go toward the projected $1.1 million project.

The remainder of the bill will be footed by $125,000 from the city’s Capital Improvements Program, $250,000 from the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation and $125,000 from property owners in the designated block.

“Ottumwa’s application showed a very transformative impact to the downtown area that included a great partnership between property owners, city and the Legacy foundation, which made their application stand out among all the applications that we received,” said IEDA community investments team leader Derek Lord. “This project in downtown Ottumwa also ties in nicely with the community marketplace, which is currently under construction. It will have more of a catalytic impact in downtown Ottumwa.”

IEDA has conditionally funded 13 Iowa cities in this grant cycle. In total, nearly 30 Iowa communities have participated or are currently participating in IEDA’s downtown revitalization program.

“It’ll be virtually a complete face-lift for the 300 block of East Main Street,” said city Planning and Development Director Nick Klimek. “We received some very positive notes from the state.”

Tuesday’s kickoff event at Hotel Ottumwa brought together the block’s property owners for the announcement of the award.

The project will address 16 of the 18 blighted buildings in the block, which, two years ago, was designated as a slum and blight area. Klimek said the project should be completed 18 to 24 months after the city is officially awarded the grant.

“We picked the 300 block because it’s a strategic location between the Market on Main and the [Capri V] Theatre,” Klimek said. “It will carry the momentum of the market and Appanoose Rapids [Brewing Company] west down the street.”

Some facades in this block already have facade improvement under way, so combined with the expected improvements, by the end of the project, 93 percent of the block’s facades will be renovated.

“This is a tipping point for Ottumwa as far as I’m concerned,” said ORLF president and CEO Brad Little.

Little said not only will the project enhance downtown Ottumwa, but it provided an opportunity to meet the property owners. He also thanked Curtis Architecture for composing a “realistic budget” and communities who have received the grant in the past for giving Ottumwa tips, best practices and advice on how to avoid pitfalls throughout the process.

This project is in line with one of ORLF’s initiatives, Reclaim Main Street, Little said, which includes launching discussions about converting downtown’s one-way streets to two-way, establishing streetscape guidelines and revamping the city’s parking lots, Market Street Bridge and Capri V Theatre.

The city followed through on its commitment to the Iowa Economic Development Authority to establish collaboration between different community entities, multiple funding partners, investment by the property owners and a “wow factor” to obtain the grant.

Of the 12 property owners in that block, 10 agreed to participate. Klimek previously told the Courier that the remaining two property owners could not be reached. The buildings slated for facade reconstruction do not include those currently being renovated or those that have previously been renovated, including Market on Main, Appanoose Rapids Brewing Company and the KMGO building.

Since the state’s facade improvement program began in 2009, approximately 400 facades have been revamped across the state, each project totaling approximately $1 million.

“We look forward to making the 300 block the place to watch over the next 18-24 months,” Klimek said.

The city of Bloomfield obtained the grant in 2010 to rehabilitate 19 buildings around Bloomfield Square, which then spurred restoration of the courthouse tower.

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