City, state and DePauw University officials came together at the DPU Green Center for the Performing Arts to share in the good news of Greencastle's selection as one of two Stellar Communities in a pilot program initiated by Indiana Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman.
Designed to help communities execute their strategic plans, the Stellar Community program also tabbed the Jennings County city of North Vernon for its inaugural class. Greencastle and North Vernon will share more than $30 million over the next three years. Funding distribution has not yet been finalized but Greencastle could receive up to $19 million of the total.
Getting a standing ovation from the standing-room-only crowd, Skillman called it a "wow moment" and a "stellar welcome from a stellar community."
"We see this as a first step toward moving our state forward one community at a time," Skillman said, adding the competition was intense for the first-ever collaborative grants from the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT), Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA), Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA) and the State Revolving Fund.
Initially 42 communities applied for the pilot program but once the finalists were whittled to 12, the two Stellar Community selections easily rose to the top.
The selections may have been apparent to state personnel, but the wait was excruciating for community and DePauw officials.
Mayor Sue Murray recalled how the long-awaited announcement was expected to come last Monday between 1 and 3 p.m.
"My phone rang between 1:34 and 1:36 p.m.," she said recalling that City Hall employees were hovering outside her door, awaiting word on the grant.
Told that Greencastle was about to receive a multi-million-dollar grant, the mayor said she was speechless at the news.
"And when I said 'speechless,' I heard a yelp from the other side of the door."
Meanwhile, over on the DePauw campus, President Brian Casey was kept in suspense waiting for his phone to ring.
"I'm waiting for the mayor to call me," Casey told the celebration crowd. Finally the phone rang and an assistant informed him, "It's the mayor."
"Hi, Sue," Casey said, resuming his rundown of the moment of truth. "'Hi,'" came her terse response. "How are you?" Casey replied.
"Stellar," she exclaimed and the celebration was on.
"Let the record state," Casey said, "that for the first time in history the DePauw University president ran to City Hall."
Lt. Gov. Skillman summed up Greencastle's selection succinctly. "In one word -- focus," she said after the formal presentation ended. "They were so extremely focused and detailed in their plan."
Greencastle is expected to receive approximately $6 million in grants from INDOT, $1.5 million in grants from OCRA and more than $11 million in loans, tax credits or grants from IHCDA.
The exact dispersal will come after Greencastle community officials sit down with the state partners involved in the program. "That will come very soon," Skillman said. "That's the next step."
Greencastle's application proposed several quality of life improvements designed to capitalize on the city's cultural and intellectual assets and position Greencastle as a regional center for economic development.
Proposed plans include:
* Revitalizing the courthouse square and central business district with streetscape improvements, facade renovations and signage.
* Relocating the DePauw University bookstore to the central business district.
* Addressing public parking solutions in the downtown area.
* Adding new housing options, including lofts in the commercial district and new construction in the South Court (south of the courthouse square) neighborhood.
* Constructing a community health center and other wellness initiatives such as a walking and fitness trail.
* Creating a technology hub and wi-fi bubble in the commercial district.
* Using these projects to leverage future private investment, including housing, retail, student housing, church expansion and more.
* Partnering with Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra to provide concerts in Greencastle, a youth orchestra program and master music classes.
"We know that Greencastle will now become an even greater economic engine for this region," Skillman predicted. "We cannot wait to see what Greencastle will do."
Mayor Murray was equally optimistic.
"We have a plan, we have pieces and we have partners," she said. "Thank you for being here. Thank you for being a part of our dream and thank you for giving us a chance."
DePauw's Casey said the timing of the historic partnership is excellent as the university is on the eve of its 175th anniversary.
"We vow to start our next 175 years as a dynamic partner with the city of Greencastle and the state of Indiana," he said. "We want to work together to create something truly remarkable here."
And Thursday afternoon was the start.