Better Block Party set for Oct. 12-15 to showcase downtown
Tuesday, October 03, 2017
A preview of possibilities
By WINONA WHITAKER
Courier staff writer
OTTUMWA — The rebuilding of downtown Ottumwa won’t happen without people who have a vision. Main Street Ottumwa is prepared to show the community what downtown could be with a little interest and ingenuity.
The Better Block Party, set for Thursday, Oct. 12 through Sunday, Oct. 15, will showcase business opportunities in parts of the 200 and 300 blocks of East Main Street. Main Street Ottumwa Director Fred Zesiger said this is a good opportunity for people to see the possible future.
"This all started with a phone call from Main Street Iowa," Zesiger said. Ottumwa! will host the fall 2017 Main Street workshop for the state. Fifty-four directors, some volunteers and Main Street Iowa representatives will be in town Oct. 11-12, so Main Street Ottumwa put together a weekend event to stage the city’s downtown.
A Main Street survey found that Ottumwa residents are concerned with downtown vacancies. "We need to fill up vacant store fronts," Zesiger said. The Better Block Party weekend will feature pop-up businesses, potential businesses that are testing the waters. "It’s only going to be there forthe weekend," said Zesiger. "A trial run."
The Main Street survey also suggested a need for bike lanes, so Main St! reet is discussing ways to bring people from the trails to the! downtown area. Spaces and places for kids was another thing survey-takers wanted to see. During the Better Block Party, the space across from the theater will be family-friendly place with areas for kids to play, Zesiger said.
The Ottumwa Theater will be on display during Main Street Ottumwa’s Better Block Party later this month. A Friday night concert with the band Members Only will give residents a glimpse of what the space
Beautifying the area, in addition to making it functional, is part of the plan for downtown. Main Street will bring in street furniture and landscaping "just to show people what it could be," said Zesiger. "So Thursday night all of this will be taking place, and there will actually be some live entertainment Thursday night."
A grant from the National Endowment for the arts will help pay for the Main Street workshop and the place-making program, Zesiger said.
Friday night, the band Members Only will play at The Ottumwa Theater. Money from the concert will go to the theater, Zesiger said.
Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation owns the theater, but Better Block "has kind of inspired them," Zesiger said. "Which is what this is all about –! activating the space. Showing them what it could be."
"I’m kind of excited about the whole thing," Zesiger said. "We started out in July. We had a public meeting, [and] it’s just been kind of going since then, and here we are a week out."
"We’ve got a couple of food trucks," said Zesiger, and "other businesses in those blocks have said that they would be open some extended hours through the weekend as well."
Better Block is all about seeing how spaces can be used, said Digital Media Specialist Isaac Campbell, who is promoting the Members Only concert
for The Ottumwa Theater. "Imagining what would be possible with these spaces.
"We want to extend that into somethi! ng which we all know and love," said Campbell, "which is the Ottumwa Theater."
Staging a downtown area allows people to see how businesses could use available spaces, Campbell said. "It breaks down that moment that people are afraid to do it."
Hosted by Greater Ottumwa Convention and Visitors Bureau, Friday’s concert will show people the inside of the old theater. "Now it’s just this massive space," said Campbell. "It’s a very raw experience. It’s bare bones."
This is the first time in 75 years that a live show has been offered at the theater, says Ottumwa Theater Projects’s Facebook page.
"I think one of the main things is just hoping that people will say, ‘That’s really great; let’s use that space,’" Campbell said.
The band ! will be on stage, but there are no seats. "It’s just an open concrete floor," said Campbell. "We’re inviting people to bring their lawn chairs if they want to sit."
Bathrooms are also nonexistent at the theater for now. Temporary facilities will be available outside during the concert.
Members Only, an ‘80s tribute band, performed at Fly Iowa in August. "These guys really are top notch," Campbell said. "They’ve just got the
right mix of vocalists and instrumentalists. It really sounds like an ‘80s band that’s up there."
The open floor in The Ottumwa Theater offers plenty of room for dancing. "And we’ll have a limited selection of b! eer, wine and water [for purchase]," Campbe! ll said. Doors open at 7 p.m. The concert begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are available through Eventbrite.
Reporter Winona Whitaker can be contacted at wwhitaker@ottumwacourier. com and followed on Twitter @courierwinona.