Dear Chamber Supporters:
 
A lot percolating in the community currently…some activities more visible than others. There are several discussions at the City level happening concurrently regarding new housing and preparing for the next 25-30 years. Decisions regarding future housing don’t always have easy answers…but are discussions which must take place in cities who wish to grow. COVID is once again becoming an issue, OU students are back in town, school is getting ready to begin (start slowing down in school zones). With all this, Cherry and I hosted all 9 of our grandkids for a cousin’s weekend…let’s get to the details!!
 
Housing:
 
New housing is something which doesn’t just happen…it must be planned for. New subdivision property is usually purchased by a speculating developer, platted, and zoned correctly and plans made for infrastructure…roads, water, electricity, streets, sewer and drainage, sidewalks, etc. Many times, a developer begins building homes and selling lots…but this is highly speculative business…it takes a big investment to buy the land establish the infrastructure, with payback not coming until multiple lots and houses are sold. The payoff can be big…but you need deep pockets and/or a good banker. Developers and banks are still skittish since the last banking/housing collapse in 2007 and 2008. The crisis caused many new banking regulations and caution against developing housing which exist today. 
 
Ottawa experienced all this…the WestWood Subdivision between 15th and 17th Streets began in the early 2000s but went dormant after 10-15 houses were built. The developer lost the investment and eventually the lots were sold at a sheriff’s sale…purchased mostly by local builders and citizens hoping to build in the area. Building the new Sunflower School across the street was a big impetus to spur the restart of the home builds in this area. Today this subdivision is near 100 percent built out.
 
The Coves north of 68 Highway and east of the Great Life Fitness golf course had a similar experience with a completely different set of problems. In this development, a City Commission from back in the early 2000s agreed to establish the infrastructure and receive the payments for it with the sale of the property…in real estate terms, these are called “specials” and are billed on the property tax bills until the infrastructure costs are fully paid. When the developer went bankrupt, the citizens of Ottawa have been stuck paying the infrastructure bill of this subdivision…with no builds and houses to pay back the investment costs…the City essentially became the banker and developer. The current City Commission is deeply involved in discussion to figure a remedy to this situation. The City’s Land Bank now officially owns the land and is calculating solutions to get the platted properties into the hand of builders and the tax dollars returned to the people which were spent on infrastructure buildout for the area.
 
Tricky business…it will involve a combination of sale of the lots and increase appraised values and tax returns once homes are built. I applaud their efforts to wade through this problem caused by their predecessors…they are considering options and being cautious with your tax dollars which have been invested in this property. Look for more lots in this subdivision to begin building soon.
 
Builders in the community have also been involve in building “in-fill” homes. The City Commission has been aggressive in condemning unlivable structures and having them removed. Whether rehabilitated or demolished (creating buildable lot) this has been a great program…it refreshes neighborhoods, removes blight, increases the overall appraised value for the community and it can be done without new infrastructure…the roads and utilities already exist in existing neighborhoods.   
 
Franklin County Development Council recently completed an official housing study of all of Franklin County to help determine what’s needed to experience reasonable growth, fuel our workforce, and cause new developments to be built. The report verified we are experiencing home builds in Ottawa at a good rate…39 new builds in 2020 and 20 through June 2021 (which if rate continues would translate into 40 new builds in 2021). What’s missing mostly in our community’s home development picture is housing density options…think apartment complexes – where multiple people live on smaller tracts of land. We also need to be considering new subdivisions and where they should be located
 
This is way deeper than I usually go into a topic in this space. But…there are many issues in this mix…thought you should be aware. The decisions being made will influence what our community looks like in 20-years…when and where the next school will be built, how this will all be paid for, where the parks will be located, where should the next new neighborhood locate. All City Commission meetings are aired on Facebook live and also archived on the City’s Webpage. If you are working at your desk maybe you can have meetings on in the background…just to keep up-to-date. Like I said…this is shaping the future of Ottawa. 
 
COVID Update:
 
It’s sad we once again need to monitor this issue…but it continues to get serious. There have been 38 new cases in August (which is only 6-days old)…I also, once again see lines at the Franklin County Health Department (FCHD) testing lab in the southwest corner of the Annex parking lot. The FCHD is also reporting 41 breakthrough cases…a breakthrough case is a fully vaccinated individual which tests positive for COVID. The Williamsburg area is really hard hit. Here is the weekly report. Also our positivity rate is on the rise too…I guess to be expected. Currently we are experiencing 11.93 percent positive…up from 2.98 percent in March (here is full monthly reporting on percent positive since March 2020). Be cautious…if you do not want to wear a mask – get vaccinated. You owe it to your family, friends and neighbors!
 
OU Blitz:
 
I mentioned OU students will soon be returning to our town and swarming the campus and town…really already taking place. The athletes began arriving this past week…this weekend will be the all-out move-in. The thought brings memories of carrying boxes of books and clothes up several fights of stairs to move our own children’s lives and valuables to college each fall. This community has always worked to make sure the new and returning students feel welcome when coming to Ottawa…their home away from home for the next 4-years. This week, there will be multiple students who enter Ottawa for the first time and will end up living their whole lives here…or at least begin their careers and families. It’s kind of awesome to contemplate. Downtown businesses want to make sure the students are welcome too…each year the OU Advancement Office and the Chamber team to take new “welcome” signs to all businesses…here are pictures of the efforts. This year our downtown merchants were able to meet the University’s new President/CEO, Dr. Bill Tsutsui. Bill, I and OU Advancement officer, Garrett Brown took ones side of the street; while Senior VP for Advancement, Janet Peters, Ryland Miller, and Courtney Klaus, another OU Advancement officer walked the other. Bill tells me he and his wife, Marjorie are getting settled into the Granger House and love the community…next chance to meet Dr. Bill – OU Fusion on Tuesday, August 10 from 6:00-8:00. The event will be at Legacy Square this year…another opportunity to interact with students and faculty as they come downtown for their evening meal…local businesses, churches and organizations set up booths for prizes and fun to add to the welcome party. Plan to attend…you can purchase a meal ticket too and eat with the students. 
 
Homeless Update:
 
The Ottawa Police Department (OPD) stepped it up a notch this week as they began a new program handing out Community Care Kits to homeless individuals. Additionally, during the summer months, the OPD and VIPs (Volunteer in Police Service) increased patrolling local trails with department bicycles and UTVs…they have many occasions to engage with those just off the trail, camping and living their lives. Chief Adam Weingartner stresses the department has never received a report of an attack or life-threatening situation from the homeless on the trails…but many citizens feel uncomfortable encountering them while biking or running – hence the increased presence. The new kits will be in a nylon string backpack and contain personal hygiene supplies, new socks, a trash bag to dispose of waste properly, and a resource guide regarding community support organizations that can help people with issues from homelessness to mental health or drug use. The Chief stressed moving homeless citizens from one place to another does not solve problems – it only moves it somewhere else. Law enforcement’s role responding to and dealing with homelessness should and will be to offer help first…thanks for leading Adam. If you want to help with funds for this care package service, contact the Department at 785.242.1700 or email Chief Adam Weingartner…OPD will appreciate all and any help provided.
 
Travis Marvin Concert…one week from today:
 
I hope you are aware and are excited to see Travis Marvin back in town…Ottawa’s own, hometown star!! We have raised enough sponsorships to provide this evening of song and dance to the community for free!! Among our many promoters, we have several lead sponsors…The Kansas State Bank, BCI Mechanical, Price Chopper, Trendel Lumber, Architect One and Loyd Builders. Other companies have stepped up too and many local volunteers will be helping with the event. The Friday, August 13 evening begins at 7:30…bring a lawn chair! There will be a beer garden and food available. Hope we can all be safe and enjoy getting together to celebrate the end of summer, the end of COVID (hopefully), and re-joining as a community!!
 
Cousins Weekend:
 
In in addition to everything else going on, Cherry and I decided to host all the grandkids at our house this week…last Friday evening it included 7-month old Patton too (his first night away from home). It was basically a hullabaloo from Friday evening until Tuesday when we sent them all home to their moms and dads. We had wiener roasts, made smores, road bikes until dark, picked flowers, caught fireflies, played house and school (some games never get old!!). During the days, some of their parents, my mom and sister would join to help take the kids to the swimming pool, playground and the Topeka Zoo. Here are just a few of the pictures
 
Needless to say…we are worn out!! The kids were 90 m.p.h. from wake time…until bedtime. Still…good times, friendships forged, the family engaged…a few days is really worth it. I will also say…I don’t know how we did it all those years ago. It is why parenting is for the young…and grandparenting is for the old!!
 
We might get a break on mowing the lawn this week (at least it is not as tall!)…one less thing. In the week ahead, surly I’ll see you at OU Fusion, the Thursday evening Legacy Market or the Travis Marvin concert…please don’t say there’s nothing to do – and please come tell me hi…let me know what you are doing!
 
Talk to you next week…
 
Onward ~ John 
 
John Coen
President/CEO
Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce
785-242-1000