Downtown Highlights

Quick Overview

  • Downtown Ottawa has been transformed from a “concrete desert” with empty storefronts and crumbling buildings and no greenery at all to a beautiful and vibrant destination for unique shopping and dining. Check out “before and after” views in the Downtown Photo Gallery. 
  • This transformation began in 2009 with an aggressive streetscaping and beautification effort which has filled the downtown with many tree and plant beds, hanging baskets, planters and window boxes filled with blooming flowers.



  • Presented award by the national America In Bloom organization for Most Dynamic Transformation of a Downtown Streetscape.


  • Due in part to its downtown transformation, Ottawa has won national America In Bloom championships in its population categories in 2014 and 2017. Competing communities are judged on categories of Floral Displays, Landscaped Areas, Urban Forestry, Environmental Efforts, Heritage Preservation and Overall Impression.


  • Ottawa also won the 2017 national championship across all population categories for Heritage Preservation.


  • Work done by horticulture volunteers in support of downtown beautification was recognized by winning the American Horticulture Society’s Community Involvement Award.


  • Virtually all of downtown is included in the Ottawa Historic Commercial District (156 qualifying structures) which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places maintained by the United States Department of the Interior.


  • Washington Park in downtown Ottawa is the site of the first Lincoln-Douglas Debate in 1858. The Park is now a National Historic District. The Debate site is marked by original heroic sized bronze statues of Lincoln and Douglas on a raised platform surrounded by fountains.



  • Located within easy driving distance from the Chicago area. Just 80 miles from downtown Chicago.


  • Only seven miles from Starved Rock State Park which attracts 2.5 million visitors each year and is the most popular State park in Illinois. Due in part to this proximity, Ottawa is known as the Gateway to Starved Rock Country.


  • The most rapidly growing industry in Ottawa is tourism supported by the full service Ottawa Visitors Center which is open seven days a week. Tourism fuels the quickly growing downtown shopping and dining scene.


  • The City of Ottawa downtown beautification and historic preservation efforts have spurred the ongoing economic revitalization of downtown Ottawa with eight new stores and a new restaurant opening in 2017 alone.


  • Economic growth has also been assisted by incentives which include the Downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District, the Ottawa Enterprise Zone, the Ottawa Façade Improvement Program and the Ottawa Revolving Loan Fund.


  • The Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway begins and ends its nearly 300 mile journey through the Illinois River Valley in Ottawa. The Byway travels from Ottawa to Havana south of Peoria along the east side of the Illinois River and then returns to Ottawa by traveling north along the west side of the Illinois River.