We’re writing this before Friday’s Ladies Night Out in downtown Ottumwa. That’s the reality of newspaper timelines on occasion. Different pages are due at different times. In our case, the editorial pages are due well before the event began.
We’re pretty confident in what will happen — has happened by this point. Organizers have learned how to put together a good event, one that attracts a substantial number of people to downtown Ottumwa and shows off the district well. We trust they have done the same this year.
Downtown Ottumwa is a different place from what it was two decades ago. Think about what it looked like at the literal turn of the century. Decades of decline were clear and potential was hard to see. Today offers a very different picture.
On Tuesday the city council will move toward one of the next major steps: the streetscape project. A bid report is part of the council meeting. Only one bid came in, which is a bit of a concern, but its $5 million price tag is very much in line with estimates made nearly 18 months ago.
Five million dollars isn’t chump change for any Iowa city. We view this as an investment, though. We won’t know if it pays off for years, perhaps a decade or more. The hopes are high, but so are concerns.
We’re going to ignore the entirely predictable refrain “what about the streets?” for the moment. This is, quite literally, a street project. There is a valid concern for Ottumwans, though. That’s the timeline.
The streetscape project has the very real potential to paralyze three blocks of East Main Street for an extended period. You never really know what lies beneath the surface until you begin digging, and in a district the age of downtown Ottumwa the only guarantee is that there will be surprises. We have to hope that those surprises don’t throw things too far out of line. Major delays would cause serious harm to the district.
Ottumwa is preparing to take a leap of faith for downtown. It’s reasonable for Ottumwans to be a bit nervous about that. In March, city officials said the roundabout might well be finished in about a month. We’re coming up on that mark, and it’s well past what the original timeline was. So is the completion date for the East Main Street reconstruction, which has finally resumed.
And those are in addition to the interminable delays at a certain half-completed project near the country club that resembles an apocalyptic movie set more than housing.
There is risk. But if Ottumwa is to continue rebuilding a tax base downtown, it needs to take steps like this. Progress rarely comes with guarantees, and it’s not always easy to see in the moment.
But think about how different things were not so long ago. Events like last night’s Ladies Night Out wouldn’t have been attempted. Saloons outnumbered shops and downtown housing was viewed as a pipe dream.
Ottumwa has made progress. We hope when the streetscape is finished in a couple years, it will be on its way toward becoming another success.