By CHELSEA DAVIS Courier staff writer twitter.com/chelsealeedavis
---- — OTTUMWA — Alleys can be great community projects, downtown leaders say, instead of dark paths that invite “less-than-desirable” activities.
At a “Rally in the Alley” Thursday night in the alley between the 200 blocks of East Second and East Main Streets, downtown organizations and adjacent property owners brainstormed what could become of the city’s alleys.
The goal of this project, said Ottumwa Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Tim Kurtz, is to redirect attention to the downtown alleys, to “do something to spruce them up.”
While the city recently received grants to revamp the storefronts of downtown buildings, Main Street Ottumwa executive director Bob Untiedt said revitalization shouldn’t stop there.
“We do everything. Why limit ourselves just to storefronts?” he said. “We’re learning from surveys of downtown business owners that we need more events ... to give downtown positive publicity. We have to look at storefronts, but we don’t only have to.”
The alley is “really high traffic,” said Megan Framke, Ottumwa Economic Development Corporation initiative manager.
Between the downtown bus stop half a block to the west and several apartments overlooking the alley, it’s not as invisible as most would expect.
“We have to make another reason for people to come down,” she said. “And this is something we can control. We can’t control the streets — that’s the city. But we can do our part to pull everyone together and have this discussion. I’m hoping it just starts here and goes through town.”
Ottumwa’s alleys are not what Framke would call pedestrian-friendly, she said.
Dale Dommer agreed, saying one of the biggest issues is the streets and potholes.
Jeff Lunsford, owner of Zero Gravity T-Shirt Company (formerly Spud’s Emporium) on East Main Street, said if the alleys don’t “look like a dark, inviting alley,” then vandalism and other crimes would likely steer clear.
“I’ve put more time into fixing what’s been done to my building in the last 15 years than I can count,” he said of the vandalism, broken windows and graffiti his business has endured.
Improvements to the streets and better lighting would “cozy up” the alleys, said Chris Bowers, director of the Area 15 Regional Planning Commission.
“Rather than make this a place people want to avoid, let’s make it a place people want to be,” Dommer said.
United Way of Wapello County community impact associate Marie Zoromski, whose organization opens up onto the alley, said she would like to see a green space in the area between Lee’s Photography and the Bridal Cottage.
“It could have elevated or self-watering containers for food, a couple picnic tables so people could have lunch there,” she said. “I would love to be able to eat lunch outside. We don’t have windows back in our office area.”
But, Lunsford noted, when he turned in his building improvement plan recently, revitalization of the alley “stretches way into next year.”
“So this may not be the next phase, but it can be ‘a’ phase,” Bowers said.