The City of Greencastle is one of two Indiana pilot communities awarded more than $19 million to use over the next three years for a number of infrastructure-related projects in an effort known as the Stellar Community Grant program.
That community-changing news was announced by Indiana Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman back in March, and reinforced and celebrated several times since by Mayor Sue Murray, DePauw University President Brian Casey and others.
They were at it again Thursday night as Mayor Murray and President Casey provided an update on the Stellar Grant progress in a public meeting hosted by the Greencastle League of Women Voters.
"I guess what surprises me the most," Mayor Murray offered, "is that eight months into this, I still find people who don't know what it is, don't have any idea about it.
"For those of us who live it every day, all I can say is, 'Really?'"
Her one-word question is incredulous, not rude.
The Stellar Grant is expected to provide as much as $19 million over the next three years to support core projects designed to enhance the economic, cultural and residential vitality of Greencastle's downtown and the "South Court" neighborhood between the courthouse and the university.
The scope of the project ranges from streetscape improvements to economic development initiatives and historic preservation efforts, primarily focused on the square and in the surrounding neighborhood.
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.
"It is very targeted, very direct," the mayor said in pointing out such included projects as a downtown parking structure, facade improvements to downtown structures, second-floor loft construction and renovation, way-finding signage, a wellness center, green space and community meeting space.
Owner-occupied housing rehabilitation in the South Court area could see homeowners receiving as much as $25,000 each if they qualify. The flexible funds could be used on lead paint remediation, energy audits, paint and siding, handicapped-accessible bathrooms and other needs.
One thing that has become apparent, Mayor Murray said Thursday, is the need for some grant administration help with all the paperwork and necessary contacts between the agencies, city and university.
"You're looking at two people in very much real time trying to work things out," he said.
"It's growing pains along the way," Murray added.
The mayor said her initial inclination was for the City Hall staff to do as much of the administrative work as possible, thus maximizing the grant dollars that could be spent on infrastructure.
"Sometimes you have to regroup," she admitted, saying that officials are working toward figuring out the scope of a grant administrator's work.
"We can't do three more years (of work themselves), we understand that now," the mayor added.
"The sheer complexity of the work was not something we could anticipate. That's the greatest challenge right now," Mayor Murray said, reminding the public that despite the focus on the Stellar Grant, the rest of her staff's responsibilities have not gone away in the interim.
City Attorney Laurie Hardwick, meanwhile, was openly praised by both the mayor and downtown business owners for her continuing efforts on the Stellar Grant program.
President Casey said the Greencastle-DePauw collaboration can stand out as a "very specific example of a movement happening across the country" in which communities that have best integrated arts and education into their community are the ones that are thriving and moving ahead.
He said by starting the process in the center of Greencastle and working out, he hopes for a "25- to 30-year renaissance for Greencastle, starting with the square."
"If all of these studies (such as the Richard Florida study) are correct," he added, "that becomes the engine that creates greater and greater things."
DePauw's ability to help provide the matching portion of funds (20 percent of the $6 million in INDOT funds) helped the city secure the overall $19,031,287 funding. Casey said that was mostly accomplished by switching the Anderson Street campus entrance project off the back burner.
"The Anderson Street entrance was moved to the forefront as sort of a template of what the streetscapes will look like," he said.
Anderson Street, west of Bloomington Street (U.S. 231), is to be converted to a two-way street by eliminating parallel and pull-in parking spaces within the 1,200-foot project area. Anderson will be completely reconstructed, including replacement of existing curbs and sidewalks, storm drainage improvements, new lighting and installation of new signage to direct visitors into campus.
Hopefully, Casey said, the Anderson Street work will be finished and the street reopen by next fall in time for DePauw's 175th anniversary celebration during Old Gold Weekend.
"If there's a God in heaven, it will be open," President Casey said.
Mayor Murray also elaborated on the parking structure planned for an as-yet undetermined downtown location. The timetable on the garage project "is not strictly defined yet," she said.
The parking structure was perhaps city officials' biggest surprise as a funded portion of the Stellar Grant package, let alone to the tune of $3.65 million for property acquisition and construction.
"It never even crossed our minds to think they (Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority) would fund a parking structure," Murray said, noting that the current emphasis is on choosing the right location that will serve the city now and in the future.
"We know this is our first chance," she said, "and probably our last to build a structure for those 150 spots. We have to maximize the dollars we have and how it will best serve the community.
"We have been given an amazing gift," Mayor Murray said of the historic grant, adding that she would not trade places with any other small-town Indiana mayor right now.
"We're in such an enviable position and we're working the bumps out," she concluded.
Starting Friday, local residents are now able to track Stellar Grant project developments online by going to the City of Greencastle website www.cityofgreencastle.com and clicking on Stellar Communities.