Stellar communities have something in common — the desire for growth to improve the communities for their current and future residents. But their visions and implementations may differ. Two communities — one nearing completion of their Stellar projects and one just revving up — show how they do it.
North Vernon, located southeast of Columbus, is nearing completion on nearly $15 million in development and redevelopment in the city, the work funded mostly through grants and loans available only to Stellar Communities designees.
The city has worked for the past five years to close out extensive downtown improvements. Kathy Ertel, executive director with the Jennings County Economic Development Commission, says the projects are almost done, with finishing touches like signage still needed in spots.
"People have a lot more pride in our downtown now," Ertel said. "I think it's a very noticeable in change in North Vernon and I think that's prompted people to maybe do more things with their buildings."
The location of The Muscatatuck Urban Warfare Training Center in North Vernon several years ago started a spur of development even before the Stellar designation was awarded in 2011. For the facility that brings in more than 10,000 people a year, infrastructure to support it has led to more growth.
In 2016, two new industries signed on with the city and are expected to bring between 325 and 375 high-paying jobs to the area, North Vernon Mayor Mike Ochs said.
"Before, it was never even possible for the big industries to come in and look at our area," he said. "Now, with the bigger airport, they can come in and scout it out."
A highway bypass for the training center has its first development, and Ochs said he believes that will lead to more.
Corydon is among the most recent recipients of the Stellar designation, and Town Council President Eva Bates North said the funding will give the town the opportunity to grow into a community that can offer more to all residents.
“We're hoping that we're going to create a place for all generations to thrive and grow so that we will attract families and kids just getting out of college,” she said. “We want to give them the ability to stay here if they would like — a good place to live and raise their family.”
The Town recently drafted a 30-year comprehensive plan including more than 50 projects, and the 10 that have been initiated through the Stellar designation are a great running start, North said.
“I'm very excited for the town, you can see the excitement in the air, you can feel it. People are [giving a lot of input,] we've got a lot of volunteers, people are very involved in it.”
North said insight gleaned from the community on projects showed that they wanted to see more greenspace, restoration of historic buildings, walking trails and better housing.
Projects include an ongoing facade improvement program — this had started before the Stellar designation and already includes the restoration of 16 buildings. The work is expected to continue beyond downtown and into other parts of town.
Housing projects include the conversion of an unused middle school to senior lofts, and a program to assist owner-occupiers with home rehabilitation like roofing and HVAC systems.
The Indian Creek Trail connection, a four-mile stretch connecting to the town's urban trail, is expected to be finished in 2017, North said.
There will also be downtown enhancements and two large historic preservation projects — on the Stonecipher and J.J. Bulleit buildings.
Total funding for the projects stand around $6 million from the state, $12 million from local government and the Harrison County community Foundation and around $30 million in private investment.
One of the largest investments in Corydon's Stellar list will be the mixed-use project on the site that formerly housed the Keller Manufacturing Company. The roughly 14-acre space will be half-devoted to a public park, the remaining space an event center and possibly small hotel, Keller said.
The public in invited to give input on the Keller property plans Jan. 30 through Feb. 2 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Corydon Town Hall.
“The public can come in, they can vote, give us input — tell us what they want in the park and how they want it to look,” North said. There will also be a survey posted on the town's Facebook page.
North said her first year as council president has been an exciting ride — the state Bicentennial celebrations giving way to a chance for town rebirth through redevelopment.
“I'm very hopeful that we're going to get a lot of things accomplished and I think we're looking toward a really bright future. We're going to do some major improvements.”