Helgerson Flats’ certification is a step forward for Ottumwa, and we’re glad to see it finally happen.
The process has been a long one. It has been nearly two years since the purchase of the land was announced and OEDC began working toward certification. The state doesn’t sign off on sites easily, nor should they.
Certification is a promise of sorts to potential developers. It tells them the site is ready. There won’t be surprises. You’re not going to start digging the foundations for a building and find a pioneer cemetery. Laying down a subgrade for the driveway will not disturb a rare bird’s nesting area or a salamander’s stream.
Environmental aspects are only one part of the promise. Certification means the infrastructure needs for a new site are either in place or work can be done within a reasonably short amount of time. The city and OEDC worked together to make sure that part of the list was met.
What Helgerson Flats is not is a silver bullet for Ottumwa’s economy. This will not change things overnight, nor should anyone expect it to do so. Development is a process, the accumulation of various milestones and developments that lead to a stronger economy over time.
Perhaps the best way to think about this is with another local economic development success: Main Street. When Ottumwa became a Main Street community, experts warned that the program does not result in instant improvements. They told Ottumwa residents we probably wouldn’t notice anything for a couple years, and that development thereafter would most likely be so gradual we wouldn’t notice it happening until, one day, we looked around and realized the progress that had been made.
It was good advice. They were right.
We don’t expect certification of Helgerson Flats to be transformational, not immediately. But it is an important incremental step toward what we hope and believe is an ongoing transformation.
Ottumwa has some momentum on development. On Tuesday, the city council will hear the most detail yet about the proposed hotel near Bridge View Center. Later this year should see the opening of the new Washington Heights apartments.
None of this means the city is overcoming every obstacle, of course. This winter has created potholes capable of swallowing small vehicles, to name one of the most obvious challenges. But we believe those whose response to every proposal, every development, is “What about the streets?” miss the point. Development is holistic. It must encompass more than one aspect.
This is a milestone, not the end of the road. It is worth celebrating, but that celebration should not lose sight of the work ahead.
Congratulations to those who have worked for the past two years to make this happen. It’s quite a feather in Ottumwa’s cap.
We can’t wait to see what comes next.