Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

May 20, 2013

Reviving downtown's upper stories

CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — Building by building, the upper stories of downtown Ottumwa are coming back to life after some have sat empty for half a century.

Main Street Ottumwa's annual Upstairs/Downtown event showed the public four buildings in downtown Ottumwa in varying stages of rehabilitation on Saturday: 228 E. Second St., 113 E. Main St., 221 E. Main St. and 332 E. Main St.

Shape Up Ottumwa, situated on the third floor above Premier Dance Center on East Second Street, was barely recognizable to those who participated in the tour last year.

"At that time, we didn't have a definite tenant lined up," said Josh Gettings, whose girlfriend, Roxanne Cagwin, owns the fitness studio. "Her business was growing and she needed extra space, so we looked at the possibility of utilizing this space. It blossomed from there."

The group began revamping the space in February and made sure to preserve some of its historic aesthetic qualities, Gettings said, such as the hard wood floors and French-style windows.

"Main Street Iowa officials say to go with what the space needs in order to make it viable," he said.

Around the corner at 221 E. Main St., those on the tour walked into a building, the first floor of which is in the beginning stages of rehabilitation. It will eventually be used as a commercial space, said David Uehling, but so far no tenant has been secured.

"Last year it was deconstructed," Uehling said. "But this floor has been exposed now, as well as the original ceiling. Our hope is that the tenant will leave the original tile and ceiling."

Upstairs, Nick Klimek and Jordan Scupien gave tours of their apartments, which have also undergone a dramatic change in the last year. Klimek's apartment retained some of the original brick walls, but architect Rod Curtis helped Klimek and his girlfriend design the apartment in a way that maximized the space and gave it a modern feel.

"We closed on the building in March last year," said Scupien, who lives in the apartment on the back side of the building. "There were Main Street grants available and we both wanted to live downtown. Whether we got the grant or not, we were going to do it."

But Main Street Ottumwa did receive the $50,000 Challenge Grant from Main Street Iowa, as well as city-awarded funds for the facade of the building and a buy-down loan. In the end, it cost $180,000 to bring the second floor up to code.

"The whole back wall was collapsing and you could see through parts of the roof," Scupien said. "There was no water, no electricity, no windows. The upstairs had sat empty for 50 to 60 years."

Down the road at 332 E. Main St., visitors got a look at three of the four apartments above Appanoose Rapids Brewing Company, which were completed six months ago and are now all occupied.

This space had also sat empty for 50 to 60 years, said Tim Schwartz. The original plan for the second floor of the building, after it was purchased in 2006, was to convert it into apartments. After the restaurant opened in 2010, the focus turned to the second floor.

"It's great to be able to create more density downtown and that community, neighborhood feeling," Schwartz said.

The final stop on the tour was 113 E. Main St., the former location of Bookin Jewelry. The first floor will become the site of the Lead Ottumwa Leadership Academy and the second floor will become two apartments, pending an announcement of whether Ottumwa will be awarded an adaptive re-use grant to create several new apartments in the upper stories of downtown buildings.

The first floor will be completed in mid-June, said Hollie Tometich, director of the leadership academy. Her first class will graduate on June 20 and an open house will give the public a look at the final results of the rehabilitation sometime in July.