before and afterOttumwa’s Main Street Getting New Look: Inside and Out 

The Streetscape construction project on Main Street in downtown Ottumwa has proceeded this summer, working toward completion toward the end of 2020. The project is designed to revitalize downtown Ottumwa and facilitate a focus on business, but it also includes improved infrastructure and safety. So while business owners, pedestrians and visitors may marvel at the new sidewalks, permeable pavers and public art, the construction goes well beyond what can be seen above ground. 

“We are targeting a cohesive look to the historic corridor along Main Street as a place designed for both pedestrians and automobiles,” said Fred Zesiger, Executive Director of Main Street Ottumwa. “But with aging natural gas lines and outdated water mains, the project partners all agreed there would be great efficiency and cost-savings to complete the projects at the same time. In this way, we get long-term sustainability above and below ground.”

Project Scope

The Streetscape Initiative encompasses a complete renovation of the above-ground features and below-ground infrastructure of the 100 - 300 block of East Main Street. New water, storm sewer and sanitary sewer infrastructure highlight the under-ground improvements. Above ground elements include new sidewalks, lighting, seating, public art, trees, plantings as well as sustainability elements such as permeable pavers and bioswales.

Construction began in July 2019 at the 300 block of East Main Street and has progressed to the west. After a brief hiatus for winter, crews began working again in March 2020 and are targeting a completion of November 2020.

Current Work: Green Street Intersection

As July wrapped up, construction work extended to the Green Street intersection. Once landscape  pavers are laid in both the intersection and the crosswalk, Main Street will be ready to open east of the mid-200-Block. At the same time, bricks are being laid in the sidewalk areas with light pole installation to follow. With storm sewer infrastructure complete in the Market Street area, pavement removal, and curb, sidewalk and planter bed installation are next on the list. 

Upgrades and Cohesiveness

The $6 million redesign project began with a focus on Main Street infrastructure. Below-grade sewer and water systems were in desperate need of upgrades and the sewer and stormwater system needed to be separated.

“The original 1870’s brick sewer lines were still in place in some of the areas as were the original brick paved and streetcar tracks,” said Zeisiger.

But a desire to improve the storefront and street design was added to the project as well. 

“We had three different designs and time periods of sidewalks and parking along the three blocks, which led to confusing parking for drivers and pedestrians alike, “ said Zeisiger. “Some of the areas were to the point of being dangerous for pedestrians and cars alike, with missing curb and broken sidewalks.”

Now, that cohesive look along Main Street is taking shape. Wider sidewalks lined with trees and planters will soften the hard landscape and provide shade for pedestrians and businesses to use to their advantage. Shorter crosswalks and narrower traffic lanes which will slow down automobiles. Pervious pavers and bioswales will direct water runoff to the planters and help protect the Des Moines River.

Wide range of backers

Progress on the Streetscape Initiative can be seen at Main Street Ottumwa Facebook page. As the city eagerly awaits the project’s completion, Zesiger pointed to the efforts of a wide range of backers supporting the project. Funding entities include the City of Ottumwa, Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation, Ottumwa Water Works, Iowa Economic Department Authority (IEDA) and Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Services (IDALS). Other partners critical to the project's progress include Main Street Ottumwa, Area 15 Regional Planning Commission, Genus Landscape Architects and the Ottumwa Area Arts Council.