City of Ottawa officials don’t expect anything different this year as the various departments spruce up the downtown corridor for this weekend’s annual car show.
Blake Jorgensen, city commissioner, said the car show is a time to showcase the city to visitors from all across the nation.
“When you have that many cars come into our community, it’s big weekend,” Jorgensen said. “It is something we all can be proud of.”
Richard Nienstedt, city manager, said the car show and last weekend’s antique tractor and engine show is so important to the city that workers begin cleaning up the city at least a couple of weeks in advance.
“All of our people are actually geared to probably two weeks out about doing what is on their checklists,” he said. “To make our community look the best it can for everybody coming in. We try and get the entrances cleaned up. We make sure the downtown is clean. We will be doing some work in Forest Park where a lot of the action takes place.”
The difference this year is Main Street is torn up and dusty as the city began replacing water lines in August. Nienstedt reiterated the city along with the contractor are working together to make sure there are no visible signs of the water line work to the car show participants and enthusiasts.
“This year is a little bit more challenging,” he said. “People will not see equipment or barricades. It will look like almost any normal day in the downtown except you can tell where they have been doing some work.”
Nienstedt explained the trenches will be filled in with sand or concrete and will be a smooth surface for Saturday’s cruise night.
“I see a cement truck now pouring cement into a trench [at First and Main],” Nienstedt said Tuesday afternoon. “The cross sections will have asphalt so it will be a smooth running surface for the cars.”
Dennis Tharp, director of utilities, said the intent is to make sure the vehicles will not be damaged by having an uneven surface.
“The holes that are in the street will be gone,” Tharp said. “The only thing they will be able to notice is where they cut that trench and filled with gravel. Those will be smooth enough that it will not effect any car.”
Even before the water line project got off the ground, city officials questioned how would it effect the car and tractor shows.
“There were definitely concerns,” Jorgensen said. “September is a big month for Ottawa. That was one of the first things that was asked about how that would be handled. They described there was a plan and that plan is being implemented now.”
Jorgensen said the alternative of starting the project after the September events may have caused even a bigger disruption.
“We could have left the [old] lines in and repair a [water main] break in the middle of the car show,” he said. “We are looking at the long-range health too by replacing the water lines. The fortunate thing is you only have to replace the water line not more often than every 30 years. It is a rare occurrence. It is a temporary thing. It is not going to permanently effect our aesthetics downtown.”
Nienstedt said city officials took every precaution to make sure the water line project would not interfere with the September events.
“Months ago when we started identifying contractors for this water project that was one of the most important things that we talked to in relationship to the contract,” Nienstedt said. “Mr. Tharp was emphatic in talking to them about the things they had to do in order for this community to be ready for the car show. Mr Tharp ran a [downtown] restaurant for 30 years. He comes with an understanding of what disruptions can do to the business climate and to the car show.”
Tharp reiterated everything the city does is for the good of the people.
“Our goal is to not make anything or do anything that would hinder the community from moving forward as it always has,” Tharp said. “The car show and the tractor show is part of that. They are as much a part of the community as replacing the water line.”
Jorgensen said the car show is part of Ottawa’s lore. Jorgensen said he attended the first one and those in succeeding years.
“We open up our Main Street to this event,” he said. “It is something we have pride in. There is a lot of nostalgia. I remember those cars when they were being driven. My uncle was a gearhead. We recognize all the different cars he’s had...the pickups my grandparents had. Seeing all the work that goes into those as well.”
Tharp said the city has partnered with the Over The Road Gang and Power of the Past leaders to make various improvements to city property.
“We work together, not only when the shows go on, but behind the scenes,” Tharp said. “We partnered with both groups to make improvements whether it be in the lighting or the electrical at the park. It is a good partnership and it will continue.”