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2/18/2012 3:14:00 PM
Portland seeking $6.67 million in Stellar Communities grant

Commercial Review

The character and appearance of the north side of Portland could change dramatically if a request for a $6.67 million grant is approved.

Portland, a finalist in the 2011 Stellar Communities grant program, put together a last-minute proposal that includes:

•Development of a daycare center operated in a former grocery and hardware store by Youth Service Bureau of Jay County Inc., a Portland-based youth services organization. That project would also include an “outdoor learning area” in front of the building and a playground along North Wayne Street.

•Construction of a street-scape project that would add trees, decorative lighting and grass in the right-of-way areas of North Meridian Street between Votaw Street and Industrial Park Drive.

•Separation of combined city sewers in an area east of Meridian Street between Lincoln Street and county road 100 North.

Portland will find out Tuesday if the projects, which would require a local cash and in-kind match of a little more than $2 million, have made the first cut. The Stellar Communities program is a cooperative effort between the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA), Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) and the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA).

“I’m very hopeful because I think it’s an outstanding project,” Portland Mayor Randy Geesman said this week. “When I was clerk and since I’ve become mayor I’ve been approached that there is a very important need for a daycare facility. It’s kinda ideal … all our industry is not too far from there.”

The proposed daycare run by YSB, titled the Jay Kids and Family Development Center, would be located in a 22,400-square foot building that was the longtime home of Marsh Supermarket and, most recently, Community Home Improvement Inc. at 1605 N. Meridian St.

The current owners of the building, Martin Schwartz and Judith Ball, have said they would sell it to a not-for-profit for $1. Jeff Sprunger, owner of Hanni Plumbing, Heating and Cooling, owns another building in the strip mall, while Jay Holdings Inc. owns a third building and much of the parking lot.

“This is an opportunity to see an area laying there stagnant … spur some growth. And it ties into what we want to do through the city in the form of pedestrian walkways and bicycle trails,” Geesaman said.

Jay County Community Developer Ami Huffman, who wasn’t aware of this year’s round of Stellar Communities Grants until late January, said the offer by the Marsh building owners to sell cheaply and YSB’s previously-expressed desire to open a daycare were the foundations of a grant application that was put together in less than a week.

“I like the projects. Everything in the application … was pulled from the (Jay County) 20/20 (Vision) plan, or the city’s comprehensive plan,” Huffman said. “It comes from the … needs and the voice of the community.”

Renovation of the building would cost $2.9 million and would be the first priority. The proposed daycare project would also include construction of a playground and youth sports field south of that building along Wayne Street. The land for that proposed playground is owned by a company with affiliations to Moser Motors, which has a Portland location with frontage on Meridian Street.

Reda Theurer-Miller, the CEO of Youth Service Bureau, said this week that “we’re just very hopeful, excited and honored to be a part of the proposal. It provides us an opportunity to do more for this community.”

YSB, which has traditionally served Jay, Blackford, Randolph, Adams and Wells counties, has expanded to a regional organization serving all or parts of six other counties. Headquartered in Portland, it has 54 full- or part-time employees and provides services to children and families in residential and home settings.

Other projects in the grant request, along with estimated cost:

•Façade improvements on the strip mall that includes the proposed daycare center — $400,000.

•Meridian Street Streetscape and landscaping/renovations of parking area for daycare — $2.54 million.

•Northeast sewer separation (area bordered by East Lincoln Street, North Meridian Street, county road 100 North and former railroad bed) — $1.65 million.

•Pedestrian/bicycle greenway connection running west on Industrial Park Drive to Franklin Street, south on Franklin Street to Milton Miller Park — $1.25 million.

Huffman said the proposed projects tie in well with other projects currently in the works in the northwest portion of the city — including the extension of Lafayette Street to Industrial Park Drive and a new pedestrian walkway from Milton Miller Park south to West Votaw Street.

The city of Portland has received state funding for a large portion of the Lafayette Street project, along with a $270,000 grant for the Creagor Avenue pedestrian path. Those projects were part of a Stellar Communities grant submitted by the city in 2011. Although the city was one of 12 finalists in the process, grants were eventually awarded to Greencastle and North Vernon.

The opening paragraph of the city’s letter of application states that four of five proposed projects in the 2011 Stellar application have been “completed.” Work has not begun on any of the projects, but Geesaman said Thursday the intention was to indicate that funding had been secured for the Lafayette Street extension and pedestrian walkway projects.

Both Geesaman and Huffman said that the addition of the daycare project was done to include an educational aspect that was prominent in the successful applications from last year’s round.

“The two cities that received the … grant last year tied it to education. We think we put a strong case into … helping children and families,” Geesaman said.

Huffman also had praise for two consulting firms — Schneider Corporation and SDG Inc. — for working on the applications at no cost. That work was done with the hopes of securing additional consulting contracts if Portland wins grant funding.

Related Stories:
• Shelbyville seeks $16.4 million in Stellar Communities grants
• Crawfordsville waiting for news on Stellar Communities grant
• Mayor lays out future plans for Washington in State of City address
• Bedford looks to enhance downtown, apply for Stellar Communities grant
• Logansport applies for $22 million grant through Stellar Communities program
• Auburn among seven finalists for 'Stellar Communities' grants
• Two Southwestern Indiana communities finalists for millions in grant funds

Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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