Anyone who has watched Blackbird Investments’ actions over the past several years could see a stark difference between past performances and Tuesday’s update for the city council. The brash, defiant attitude Blackbird has displayed in the past was gone.
Replacing it was contrition, an acknowledgement that the company has failed to hold up its end of the bargain on the St. Joseph Hospital site. The company promised to do a better job in the future and to regain the community’s trust.
We’ll see. Promises are easy enough to make. Blackbird has certainly made enough of them. Keeping them has proven to be the difficulty.
There were hints, here and there, of Blackbird’s tendency toward grandiosity. The vision that one company can revitalize rural Iowa’s housing market is, frankly, unlikely to ever come to pass. And those hints continue to give us pause, to wonder whether this was an act or a genuine realization that Blackbird has a very large, self-inflicted black eye.
But Ottumwa now has bits of a clear timeline to which Blackbird has pledged itself. It’s difficult to say how long the arbitration process in which the company is engaged with its former contractor will take. It’s fair for the company to say it can’t give more specifics until some of those items are complete.
Once work resumes, though, the clock will be ticking. Blackbird said the new contract with Drish, a Fairfield company, requires a level site within 70 working says. That’s a little more than two months when you figure in weekends. Weather could also push the completion back.
We were glad to see the council raise the issue of the overall condition of the site. But the city needs to do more than ask. It needs to follow through. Past performance suggests the city should be prepared to act immediately if Blackbird fails to follow city code on grass height or removal of debris from outside the actual, fenced-in construction area.
Where we were disappointed was in the city’s transparent effort to pass off involvement in the $500,000 grant made to Blackbird for demolition. Officials repeatedly said it was Legacy’s money, not the city’s. They tried to pass the (500,000) bucks.
The problem with such an attempt is that it ignores the simple fact that as soon as the money went from being a check from Legacy to a deposit in the city’s accounts, it became public money. It doesn’t matter how long it was in those accounts or whether it was earmarked for Blackbird all along. Money in city accounts is public money, period.
It is in everyone’s best interests for this project to eventually be completed. But it is also in everyone’s best interests that the city be more assertive in a situation that seemingly spun out of control over the past nine months. Blackbird has shown it needs to be on a shorter leash than what it has previously enjoyed, with the city getting regular, public updates on what is happening.
We still have concerns. Tuesday’s process was nowhere near as transparent as it needed to be, and Blackbird backed out of a meeting Mayor Tom Lazio proposed with the Courier, citing the ongoing litigation. Only Blackbird can speak to multiple aspects of this project which still need transparency, and we hope they will do so soon.
Whether Tuesday’s update represented a genuine shift or more of the same remains to be seen.