Ottumwa Schools considering purchase of Market on Main building, business leaders are hesitant

Published: Oct. 16, 2020 at 3:45 PM CDT
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OTTUMWA, Iowa (KYOU) - During the last board meeting of September, the Ottumwa school board proposed purchasing the Market on Main building, but some business leaders in the area have concerns about how that could affect commerce on Main Street.

On September 25th, Ottumwa Community School District officials proposed purchasing the Market on Main building, which currently stands vacant. The school said it would use the space to integrate a career and technical education program (CTE). At the September meeting, the school detailed how the program could benefit students who are preparing for the workforce through partnerships with local businesses. However, Dennis Willhoit, co-owner of Appanoose Rapids, is concerned that the proposed purchase could have a negative affect on commerce in the downtown area.

“Right now, our example across the street is SparkTank, which is right next door. (Sparktank) is another high school program. Lovely facility, good work in the program, but it is basically a dark store front; because the front door is locked most of the time," said Willhoit, whose business neighbors the school-owned, SparkTank building.

While Willhoit says he fully supports the start-up of a CTE program, he feels the Market on Main building could be better utilized to support business on Main Street.

"There are a very limited number of storefronts that are ready for businesses to move in. And so, that’s the thing about Market on Main, it’s a space that’s ready; or ready with some minor development. The thing we hear all the time from our 20-somethings, 30-somethings that are moving to town, they want nightlife. Does an educational institution really bring nightlife to downtown commerce?” Willhoit questioned.

Fred Zesiger is the executive director of the Main Street Ottumwa program. He’s meeting with school officials next week regarding the potential purchase. Zesiger and Willhoit agree that they will feel more comfortable with the plan if they’re involved with the decisions made going forward.

"School is only in session nine months out of the year. So what happens with those three months where school is not in session? Does that building remain activated during that time? Those are kind of the things that I’m looking for. How many people are going to work there? What kind of activity is the property going to have?” Zesiger explained.

In a statement to KYOU, the Ottumwa Community School District said:

“The district is excited about the possibilities the purchase of Market on Main presents. It offers Ottumwa Schools the opportunity to continue to develop programs with a strong focus on college and career readiness while strengthening our community partnerships. We look forward to contributing to the vitality of the Main Street district.”

For now, the Market on Main purchase has yet to be approved by the Ottumwa school board. The next meeting will be held on October 26.

Copyright 2020 KYOU. All rights reserved.

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