The Ottumwa Theater
The Capitol Theater
Ottumwa's Legacy Foundation has possession of two underutilized buildings:
Let's revitalize them
The Ottumwa Theater
The Capitol Theater
Set the scene
As the largest urban area within Wapello County or any of its seven adjacent counties, Ottumwa serves as the social and economic hub in southeast Iowa. Recent investments in downtown revitalization efforts have driven renewed interest in living and working in downtown. In the past three years, the city has been awarded nearly $10 million in state and federal grants while private owners have invested $16 million in the renovation of historic storefronts and investing in second- and third-story apartments.
The Better Block initiative in the fall of 2017 further helped highlight what the community wanted to see in the downtown area and what would work. Temporary pop-up shops are now thriving brick and mortar businesses. And when asked what businesses should be in downtown, residents identified entertainment venues as the number two need on that list, only behind places to shop.
Get ready for Act II
Ottumwa recognizes that it must nurture and expand its cultural offerings to attract and retain a skilled workforce, local and regional businesses, and high-paying jobs. By taking this first step, Ottumwa has demonstrated the community is ready to take on this challenge to enhance the quality of life of both current and future residents.
The Legacy Foundation of Ottumwa acquired these buildings in recent years, investing in the idea of what these buildings could be and what they represent: the future of Ottumwa. In these safe, neutral hands, the buildings have been made watertight (with replaced roofs) and cleaned (removed trash, mold, and asbestos). The facade of the Ottumwa Theater was restored to its original glory, winning an AIA Central States Design Excellence Award – Honor Award in Historic Preservation in 2018. The Capitol Theater’s facade was also renovated.
By bringing these buildings back to life, not only will they bring about economic growth and continue the good work of Main Street redevelopment, but more so these buildings represent a catalytic shift in energy and passion of Ottumwa. Revitalizing these buildings can cure the community of perhaps its biggest detriment – the negative perception its own residents feel about its past and future. Just maybe, filling these buildings with innovative concepts could make Ottumwa residents believe that this city once filled with nearly 40,000 can rebound and lead again.
In 2019, McClure Placemaking, a consulting group specializing in revitalizing rural America, was retained to create this revitalization plan. McClure lead several community focus groups, gauging local interest in potential amenities and conducted a capacity assessment for these proposed projects. This plan was created with the end goal of putting these great spaces back to use for the betterment of the community, providing recreational and educational opportunities.
At the heart of this concept, and of Main Street, lie the former Ottumwa and Capitol Theaters, side by side. Each hulking space has sat largely empty for the past 10 years. The Legacy Foundation has purchased these buildings with the intention of bringing them back to life. Revitalization of these properties can serve as the final catalyst in the reimagining of Ottumwa’s downtown.
At the core of successful community planning efforts, engaged residents of diverse backgrounds come together to define a vision, develop goals, and identify measurable objectives to ensure their vision becomes a reality. These concepts came to define the programming offerings that these spaces can include. All of the ideas contained within this plan came from a grassroots effort of interviewing 1000+ Ottumwa residents.
Hundreds of good ideas were shared for the properties, though an overlying issue throughout all of the visionings and interviews was a shared feeling that the people of Ottumwa, simply, have a negative view towards their city itself. Over and over again residents shared great ideas with us in groups and in one-on-ones, though nearly 100% of the time we heard a great idea quickly followed by a detrimental remark about the community. In order for these concepts to be successful, residents and community leaders must believe in their ability to progress, and in the inevitability of the success of Ottumwa.
Through extensive interviewing, research and community visioning sessions with more than 1000 community members – including groups ranging from Ottumwa High School and Indian Hills students, to local business leaders – residents generated ideas that led to the creation of this action plan. We believe this plan will serve as a catalyst for the entire downtown district and the community as a whole.
This action plan would not have come together without the generous support, guidance, and ideas provided by the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation, their staff and its board.
Repeated themes include:
ACTION PLAN DESCRIPTION
A quantitative and qualitative data review guided the process of prioritizing the community’s dozens of potential ideas to a practical number of projects that can be accomplished efficiently and effectively. At this time, capacity assessments were conducted for each of the projects, ultimately leading to these placemaking projects that have the potential to advance the revitalization efforts in Ottumwa for years to come. These projects were each vetted out in three categories:
First Cut: Community Desire/Need
If the concept made it into the plan initially, it was due to overwhelming community desire
Second Cut: Financial Viability
These concepts were each vetted out to determine if they could sustain themselves long-term, or otherwise be subsidized by another concept
Third Cut: Practicality
If the concept made it to the final stage, we then had to determine if there were people and/or organizations in Ottumwa who had the skill set to operate them successfully
The programming that made it through to this point led us to determine these concepts for the buildings:
- Ottumwa Theater: Renovate as the regional hub for performing arts
- Capitol Theater: Makerspace, and co-working offices
The main street theater has been a staple of many communities throughout the 20th Century. Too few of these historic structures remain in existence and even fewer have retained its status as a social and cultural hub.
The Capitol Theater
The Capitol Theater sits next to the Ottumwa Theater. The plans for this nearly 16,000 square feet facility are centered around technology and innovation.
More than a theater!