Historical Preservation Commission looks forward after church demolition

Published: Jan. 7, 2022 at 8:58 PM CST
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OTTUMWA, Iowa (KYOU) - Demolition on the former Wesley United Methodist church lot is complete as Ottumwa Schools expands the high school’s parking.

It’s a hefty loss for Dennis Willhoit, chair of the Historic Preservation Commission, who was a very vocal opponent of the demolition. “We have lost a lot,” he said about the church. “And we need to stem that tide.”

But now that the church is gone and the high school will turn the lot into expanding parking, Willhoit is determined to look ahead and use the lessons learned. “We need to be more proactive than the commissions in the past have been, to push our city government, to push our council members, to adopt local ordinances for historic preservation.”

There are 18 registered site listed on the Commission’s website each eligible for federal tax incentives that encourage rehabilitation and reuse of buildings. Willhoit points to the former B’nai Jacob Synagogue on East Main as a perfect example. He says it’s been turned into event and performance space, and that they’ve saved that building. “While we’re sad about Wesley United Methodist Church, we have another example of where a building was saved. And so it does happen in Ottumwa.”

Other options Willhoit mentioned include educating people who do own historic buildings about the tax credits they’re eligible for, and creating a pathway for those owners to get registered.

KYOU reached out to the Ottumwa school district for comment who say there is nothing new to report.

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