Blackbird 'on track to start' St. Joseph Square this year

·3 min read

May 6—OTTUMWA — A partner with Blackbird Investments said Thursday that the St. Joseph Square project is on track to start this year.

Ryan Doyle, a partner with the firm, told the Courier that several factors have hindered the project, most recently the pandemic. However, he said, citizens can expect to see shovels in the ground sometime this year.

"I think what the people should know is that we are getting this back on track, and it is our intent to fully develop the site," he said. "What those specifications look like and how they are phased out are still in discussions.

"We're still trying to find that sweet spot."

Ottumwa city administrator Phil Rath said Thursday he was eager to see what Blackbird's intentions are. To date Blackbird has seemingly over-promised and under-delivered to the city, but this could be different.

"Obviously we want to have a housing development there, and we'll have to look at what they're doing and see how they want to proceed," he said. "We'll be interested to see how they make their deadlines that are in the contract, but if it strays from that, we'll have to see how we want to proceed."

The project was conceived in 2015, and the housing development was scheduled to open two years ago. However, the project this time may look different. Doyle said Blackbird would build some homes, but also offer lots for sale on the 10-acre property on East Alta Vista Avenue.

According to the contract between the city and Blackbird, the project is to be completed by Dec. 31, 2024.

"We'll continue to have a plan for spec housing, but there will be lots for buyers to custom build," he said. "We're re-evaluating things based on demand, like if people are looking for lots with infrastructure there. Things will fluctuate."

The site already has culverts and piping on the ground, which has been there for a while.

Doyle said the original intent of the project was to renovate the old St. Joseph Hospital, which was eventually demolished. Little work had been done after the demolition, and during Tuesday's Ottumwa City Council meeting, Mayor Tom Lazio expressed an interest in seeing "what we as a city could do to make the property attractive to local contractors."

Doyle was aware of the history.

"We were going to renovate the hospital but we found that was going to cost a ton of money, so we had to change the plan," he said. "So we decided to put together a large development that is more measured."

The city has little standing on the project since it hasn't put any money into it. Blackbird owns the property, and the only move the city had made recently was withholding a tax rebate from the firm because of the lack of action on the site."

Part of what the revised project will look like depends on demand, Doyle said. The original project was to include 104 condominiums.

"The plan has always been a phased roll-out," he said. "We're not going to put 90 houses on a market all at once."

Doyle was unsure how many units would be available this year, only saying "it will be several dozen homes."

"The first houses will be later this year," he said. "Everyone kind of hit a pause button, but now we have to see what the market is. The project will reflect current demand."

— Chad Drury can be reached at cdrury@ottumwacourier.com, and on Twitter @ChadDrury