Streetscape Project - Improvements in Downtown Ottumwa

Monday, September 23, 2019

Several blocks in Ottumwa’s downtown are currently undergoing a major redesign, which includes the removal of existing roads and sidewalks to be replaced with a semi-permeable surface to direct rain runoff toward new planting along the sides of the street. Another primary component of the project is the separation of water and sewer lines, many of them decades old. 

It’s called Streetscape and the project officially kicked off in May of this year while planning has been in the works for some time. In February of 2018, the City approved up to $3.4 million in bonds. The Legacy Foundation also committed more than $2 million, and state grants and Ottumwa Waterworks also are contributing to the $6 million project. 

Along with new larger sidewalks and roads, the improved streetscape will also boast new lighting, benches, trash receptacles, bike racks, and artwork. Last but not least, it will set the tone for additional improvements as part of the Riverfront Renaissance, a larger project anticipated for downtown Ottumwa over the next 3-5 years.  

Why now?

Downtown Ottumwa is an award-winning community that is improving at a rapid pace. “A strong, thriving downtown means a strong, thriving network for housing, business, and entertainment options” says Sharon Stroh, Executive Director, Ottumwa Economic Development Corporation (OEDC). “Ottumwa is making its mark both regionally and at the state level, and as a result, our community has caught the attention of Iowa officials who can assist with our growth and change efforts”. 

Stroh goes on to say that the project is increasing the city’s valuation, which is important from a tax collection standpoint as it impacts the quality of services offered to the community, from health and safety features, to infrastructure improvements, to staff efficiencies.  

It’s also important from the standpoint of attracting and retaining businesses to the area. “In every case, when prospects or site selectors come to visit Ottumwa, they are happy to see a healthy downtown area. Coupled with an expanded industrial site, Ottumwa is setting the stage for continued manufacturing and commercial growth” Stroh adds. 

Downtown Ottumwa has seen a lot of new retail stores and an increase in upper story apartment units.  Five years ago, downtown had 73 units for rent, while now there are 110 units available; and tax valuations on the improved downtown properties has grown 24% to $4,778,054.

This growth has helped transition Ottumwa from its rural roots to a “micropolitan” center for commerce in Southeastern Iowa. The area is also attracting new restaurants, small businesses and entrepreneurs. Indian Hills Community College developed the Regional Entrepreneurship Center specifically to encourage this aspect of business growth. Located at the north campus, the REC boasts five tenants, from high-end laser technologies to allergy-free baked goods.  

To be sure, some inconveniences will accompany the downtown improvements, such as alternative “back door” parking and access to some businesses, but these small inconveniences will be well worth the end result. OEDC, Main Street Ottumwa, city officials, and local businesses encourage you to continue supporting Main Street stores and shop local through the construction season. 

The completion date of the Streetscape project is slated for fall of 2020, barring any unforeseen circumstances. You can follow along with the project and get updates here. 

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Ottumwa Economic Development Corporation 217 East Main Street Ottumwa, Iowa  52501
Phone 641-682-3465 Fax 641-682-3466