Completion of St. Joseph Hospital and leveling of the grounds marks a major point in the proposed development of the site for new housing in Ottumwa.
The city has long awaited this point in the project. The key is now construction, which cannot be expected to begin in any significant amount until next spring. The timeline is still a bit fuzzy, though, and given the winding road to get to this point that’s cause for concern.
Our editorial board firmly believes the city and Blackbird should take advantage of the winter lull to lay out the next steps in detail. Bring the people of Ottumwa a solid plan for when they can expect work to begin on construction, when they will see the long-awaited work begin, and what the schedule is for completion.
Both Blackbird and the city should see this as an opportunity to build trust. The community’s faith in both was undermined by the long delay in demolition, as well as the repeated delays and redesigns that have accompanied the project since it was first proposed in December 2014.
Those five years of waiting and wondering could not help but have that effect. The progress this summer is significant. It was a start toward showing Ottumwa that the promises that have been repeatedly made had something behind them. The work went quickly, faster than anyone would have predicted. It was the first unequivocally positive step in some time.
Build on that. Come to the people of Ottumwa and lay out what they can expect in the coming months. No one expects miracles. The winter season means another delay, one that’s quite out the hands of anyone at Blackbird, their contractors, or the city. It is not unreasonable, though, to think such a milestone should lead to another update.
There are other benefits to such a move, should Blackbird take advantage of the opportunity. Questions about the company’s ability to follow through with its projects have not been limited to Ottumwa. Similar questions have been asked of much higher profile work in Des Moines. An update in Ottumwa with clear, measurable timelines and goals could help tamp down concerns there as well.
We think the project can be viewed now with a cautious optimism, and that’s better than we’ve been able to say for more than a year. If Blackbird walked away now Ottumwa would still be short of housing, but would no longer be left with a ruin. Instead, it would be left with a potentially valuable site that is better prepared for development than it has been for decades.
That does not mean Blackbird, and by extension the city, is out from under the microscope yet. The community should not forget the blown deadlines and shifting promises of years past, nor should it be asked to do so. But neither should those errors be used to deny the reality of the progress that has been made.
A willingness to come forth with a clear timetable would speak well of intentions at this point. Failure to do so would simply create additional questions. We hope Blackbird and the city will take advantage of the coming months to lay out a plan that will ensure clear milestones and accountability. It is certainly in their best interests to do so.
And it is in the community’s best interests to expect nothing less.