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‘Something beautiful’ awaits the Jordan block

In the 20 years since its business enterprises were shut down by a devastating fire, downtown Ottawa’s Jordan block has become a familiar open space for community events.

But people should not get too attached to the park-like setting, said Mayor Bob Eschbach.

According to Ottawa’s comprehensive plan, the long-range goal is for the space to be redeveloped with mixed uses including outdoor entertainment, shops and places to live, he said.

“But that would be after the waterfront is developed,” Eschbach noted. “While the Jordan block is a beautiful open spot, we’re going to have something much more beautiful and much more open on the river.”

There have been proposals.

In 2004, drawings for the elegant $58 million Starved Rock Resort were unveiled.

Plans showed a hotel with a Main Street facade suggestive of the appearance of the old La Salle County courthouse across the street with a connecting bridge to the Ottawa Boat Club.

But that project, even with a $25 million bond guarantee from the Upper Illinois River Valley Development Authority, proved richer in dreams than in financing and ultimately never happened.

The city, which previously secured purchase options on all the properties in the block, subsequently entered into an agreement with Tom Heimsoth, developer of the then-proposed Heritage Harbor Ottawa residential marina project, to transfer the options to his group.

The agreement cleared the way for Heimsoth to raze the buildings. That was done. Then in 2009, the city acquired the Jordan block from Heritage Harbor in a deal that involved the extension of water and sewer lines to Heritage Harbor and payment of about $1 million.

In 2012 the Reddick Public Library District Board proposed a new $14.4 million library on the Jordan block. The plan called for a two-story library on the east side of the block while retaining a park setting on the west side.

"I think this is the project you've been waiting for for the Jordan block," Reddick Board President Neil Reinhardt told the City Council in March 2012. "This is the kind of development that can really solidify the revitalization of the downtown, can become an anchor and can draw people down there that will help other people see the potential of commercial development in that area."

But council members were not enthused and the library board instead decided to remodel its current building.

Spacious and appealing, the Jordan block remains a convenient and prominent venue.

“It’s very visible,” said City Engineer Dave Noble. “A lot of people just drive by and see it, which is one of its attractions: the whole town knows what’s going on with your event because it’s right there in front of them.”

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