Little by little, the hazardous historic three-story building in downtown Ottawa is coming down. Progress is difficult to see as it is razed brick by brick, leaving a squared off upper tier, but the third story is gone and the second story won’t be far behind.
So what happens once the entire building is gone? A cavity of space will remain in the middle of the block at 124 S. Main St., between Trading Post Antiques/Thomas and Richeson Accounting and the former Chalk It Up, once the massive structure has been confined to the dust bin of history. The crumbling building’s owner — the bank that took it over once it foreclosed on the property — seems unlikely to erect something else at the site.
The City of Ottawa might well be preparing for the site to come into its hands. If the city — willingly or otherwise — becomes the property’s owner, it will need to decide what to do with it. One idea to consider is a mid-block walk-through courtyard for the public to easily move from the parking lot behind the 100 block to the front side. More than nine years ago, when the Ottawa Main Street Association came to life here, a study was completed on behalf of the group to aid its organizational efforts.
That 2003 study by HyettPalma recommended the area between the Marais des Cygnes River and Third Street be designated for an art, food, specialty retail and entertainment district. The report goes so far as to specify moderately priced restaurants, sandwich shops, coffee houses, delis, brew pubs, bakeries, candy/ice cream/yogurt shops, a movie theater and entertainment in restaurants. The remainder of downtown was scheduled for office and institutional merchants.
Many of those changes are happening with Plaza Grill and Cinema’s renovation, Bella Cucina’s expansion, the coming of Luigi’s Italian restaurant, as well as El Sol, a new Mexican restaurant. The area is developing as the consultants recommended it should be. Based on those recommendations, the site should be converted into an outdoor courtyard. It would be even better with public restrooms, since none are available in the area after regular business hours. The Main Street group, which would appreciate the opportunity to have the property, discussed the feasibility of constructing a miniature Victorian structure set back from the other storefronts so it could accommodate public restrooms and a brick courtyard, along with a walkway with benches for the public. Such a plan would enable Main Street volunteers to man the office and provide some oversight on the restroom availability on evenings that the majority of downtown businesses are open.
The building’s demolition is sad, but it also presents opportunities for change and establishing new goals. The change in Ottawa’s storefronts with the absence of one business could be the beginning of something even better in its place. Let’s hope the current owners see it that way too.
— Jeanny Sharp, editor and publisher