Ottawa city officials are formally accepting proposals for applicants interested in providing downtown economic development services next year in place of the local Main Street Association program.

During the Ottawa city commission's Monday study session, officials took Ottawa City Manager Richard Nienstedt's advice and agreed to advertise the request. Applications are due by noon Nov. 1, and according to the request, officials anticipate selecting an individual and negotiating a contract no later than Jan. 15, 2020.

City officials spent little time discussing the issue, which was previously deliberated in two other study sessions last month. Nienstedt encouraged commissioners to take the time to review applications and make a list of questions so that they were all on the same page when considering applicants.

In late-September, Shawn Turner, who co-owns Turner Flowers and Country Store in downtown Ottawa, and another local business owner, Kyle Raley, shared their concerns about the Ottawa Main Street Association with city commissioners. Weeks earlier, Nienstedt presented what he described as a preliminary proposal request, seeking downtown economic development services.

 

The proposal comes on the heels of a lengthy examination of the Ottawa Main Street Association earlier this summer, which included an audit and a reduction in funding. The program has existed since the early 2000s.

 

Turner explained how he understood commissioners were examining downtown economic development activity, and considering how they wanted to proceed. After talking with a few other downtown business owners about their thoughts on an economic development program, he began discussing the issue with Kyle and Mary Raley, who own and operate Maggie’s Popcorn and Nuts, at 230 S. Main St.

 

“We expressed there was energy and a desire to have a conversation with the city,” he told commissioners last month. “Ottawa’s still a small town, even though we’re a growing town - word gets around. Quickly and suddenly, we had 30 businesses excited about putting a fresh, new look on what economic development looks like for downtown Ottawa, so we visited with the Main Street board. And through those conversations, we had a list of things we wanted to see happen, and we plan to put in a proposal and express an interest in making something happen as far as downtown.”

 

Turner said the group had created a list of goals, and were prepared to answer questions in the RFP, if city officials were interested in discussing it with them. At that time, Nienstedt suggested commissioners delay the matter for two weeks to give him time to discuss the idea further with Turner, the Raleys and the local Main Street Association.

 

“Give me two weeks to take a look and really understand what’s going on here,” he said at the time. “There may be a possibility the Main Street program is not materially changing...It’s your decision, but my advice, we need a couple of weeks here to understand and sort this out.”

 

On Monday, Commissioner Sara Caylor asked Nienstedt for an update.

"There are some groups out there looking for alliances, and there are some groups sitting with each other," Nienstedt said. "I think that you're going to see a number of applicants. I think you ought to just go through the process."

After reviewing the proposal, Caylor told commissioners she didn't want to delay a decision much longer, adding officials had already put the Main Street program and economic development officials in limbo.

"We need to get up and get going on this," she said.

As proposals are being accepted, Turner has invited local business owners to attend a roundtable discussion at  6:30 p.m. Monday in the Ottawa Memorial Auditorium basement.

"Any one group could check all the necessary boxes to receive the funding by working solo...the organization

who will be awarded these funds will need to work hand-in-hand with all related community organizations...not

only for our downtown's success in the short term, but for the maintenance of current momentum and the future

success of downtown Ottawa," Turner posted to Facebook.

"There are a variety of interested parties and organizations who have expressed a desire to provide input and

potentially submit a proposal for these funds. However, you are the individuals from whom we need input and

participation."

 - For more information on Monday's meeting, contact Mary Raley at 417-540-4415 or Turner at 785-241-0634.