Spring is finally, unquestionably here. We’re seeing it everywhere. Flowers are coming into bloom, trees are beginning to bud. Even construction projects forced into dormancy by the winter are resuming work.
Well, most are. There’s a notable exception that needs to be addressed. It’s time for the city to press Blackbird on its plans for getting demolition at St. Joseph Hospital completed.
Enough secrecy. Enough statements that claim inside information, dribbled out to the public when people decide to toss a few crumbs to the community. It’s time for the city to demand an accounting, a public explanation of what the plan is and whether Blackbird has the money to follow through.
The challenge the city faces with Blackbird is not unique. Cities and developers across the country engage in complex partnerships that attempt to balance public good and private profit, transparency and trade secrets. Cities want community benefits. Developers want to make money. Developers have obligations to investors, lenders and, sometimes, landowners.
The city’s obligation is ultimately to its people. Giving developers a bit of leeway is understandable. But there comes a time when the city’s government must show it supports the people who elected it.
The current state of St. Joseph is tragic for a building that means so much to residents and the history of Ottumwa. Inside those blown-out rooms, now resting on a sea of rubble, there are vivid memories of life and death, joy and sorrow, for many Ottumwans. That’s bad enough for Ottumwa as a whole. It’s worse for those who now live near the eyesore. Once anchored by an iconic historic structure, the adjacent neighborhoods now live in the shadow of a battered and horribly disfigured landmark.
The city has leverage. The site’s current state is an indisputable public nuisance. It is difficult to see any way the city would not have already moved against any other site in Ottumwa that was left in similar condition. It’s time to start the clock on Blackbird for completion of the project.
We understand the city’s concern that Blackbird might walk away if such steps are taken. It is a possibility. Such a decision would leave the city with an expensive cleanup, and we understand that the city wants to avoid that.
Blackbird has incentive to get this finished, too. Others around the state have taken notice of Blackbird’s poor management of its Ottumwa project. The condition of St. Joseph Hospital has given pause to officials in other cities where Blackbird has announced grand plans. The skepticism is entirely warranted, and is leaving a mark on the company’s name that will not soon be erased.
Yet Blackbird’s actions over the past several months don’t suggest continuing commitment, much less urgency. Companies who still plan to forge ahead don’t duck requests for comment on a project’s current status, as Blackbird has done repeatedly when the Courier has inquired.
If Blackbird really plans to see this through, let them come to the city council and say before the public how it plans to do so. Let Blackbird say when it will reach milestones that should have been passed many months ago. Let Blackbird say why Ottumwa should trust anything it says, and let them endure public questioning instead of private coddling.
Enough is enough. It’s time for the city to stand up for its people.