Saturday, October 25, 2014

Ottawa hopes to polish its OMA jewel

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 1/13/2014

Ottawa Municipal Auditorium might have lost some of its luster since the landmark community venue opened in 1921, city officials acknowledged Wednesday.

But now the auditorium, 301 S. Hickory St., has an advisory board to “polish the jewel” and help make it a more vibrant part of the community, city officials said.

Ottawa city commissioners voted 5-0 Wednesday night to establish the seven-member board. The governing body will appoint the board, with four members serving two-year terms and three members serving a one-year term initially. All subsequent terms will be for three years.

The city should not have trouble filling the initial board, which is to include five members who reside in the city limits, as well as two members who live outside Ottawa, Richard Nienstedt, city manager, told commissioners.

“I’m pleased to tell you there is considerable interest in serving on this board,” Nienstedt said.

The move to establish the board comes about after many discussions about the future of the auditorium, Nienstedt said. OMA is run as a city entity, and is funded through local tax dollars. OMA’s budget this year is $234,449, up from $202,128 allocated for the auditorium in 2013.

“Many, many years ago when the auditorium was created, it was an independent agency set up to run with trustees,” Nienstedt said. “The trustees took a personal interest in the auditorium and ran it as a business for the betterment of the community. 

“I believe that changed about 40 years ago,” he said of the trustees board disbanding. “I think that there is always something lost when you have a public facility that is there for the arts and culture of the community, and you don’t have public involvement. So, I think that’s a key missing at least the last 40 years.” 

The advisory board will report directly to the city commission, Nienstedt said.

“This auditorium is a jewel and an asset to the community, and I think this is one way that we can get public involvement and help get that asset used more and more often and recognized by the community,” Nienstedt said.

Blake Jorgensen, city commissioner, called the establishment of the board an “exciting step” for the community.

“Having a group of people focusing on what can make the auditorium a better place is an important step because the five of us [commissioners] create policy and we also have to focus on paving streets and building sidewalks and maintaining the airport and all the other things we are tasked with doing,” Jorgensen said, “but having a group of people focusing on the auditorium and making suggestions on how to further that activity — which is really a quality of life issue — is another service that our community can offer to our citizens ... and is really a step in the right direction.”

A town the size of Ottawa should be able to support a venue like the auditorium, Mike Skidmore, city commissioner, said.

“I really think this advisory board would be something to continue the future use of this facility,” Skidmore said.

Shawn Dickinson, city commissioner, agreed with his colleagues’ assessments of the need for an advisory board.

“[The auditorium] has a very unique setting, and I would love to see us do more there to draw people to that facility,” Dickinson said. “So, I’m glad we are moving in this direction.”

Expanding on Nienstedt’s point, Sara Caylor, Ottawa mayor, said she also thinks the auditorium is a community treasure.

“OMA is a jewel for us, and I think that jewel unfortunately has not been polished for several years,” Caylor said. “This is an opportunity to get a group of individuals together to actually polish it up and make it a really workable facility for us here in the community.”

The commission Wednesday did not set a timetable for filling the advisory board, but commissioners had expressed interest at a recent study session in getting the board up and running in the near future.

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