The Bedford Development Center, formerly StoneGate Arts & Education, 405 I St., wil close at the end of May. Staff photo by Garet Cobb
The Bedford Development Center, formerly StoneGate Arts & Education, 405 I St., wil close at the end of May. Staff photo by Garet Cobb
BEDFORD — Occupancy has dwindled at the Bedford Development Center, formerly StoneGate Arts & Education Center at 405 I St., prompting the city of Bedford to shutter the historic building.

By the end of May, the center will close. Bedford Mayor Sam Craig said the building simply costs too much to continue operating at its current occupancy. Previous owner Oakland City University donated the building to the city in 2014.

“I asked for the numbers on operating this facility for a year and it’s costing the city $26,000 to $27,000 a year and with maintenance costs on top of that,” Craig said. “As mayor, I won’t spend this type of money for no or little return.”

The two biggest occupants — Oakland City University and Ivy Tech Community College — moved out late in 2018 to the new StoneGate in downtown Bedford.

No longer offering college classes, the building was renamed the Bedford Development Center in 2019 and continued to offer business incubator space to start-ups as well as space to nonprofits. Aluminosity, a robotics team, and the American Red Cross were two groups that were housed in the building.

Craig said he has talked with the remaining occupants and worked with them to relocate to other sites.

Craig is exploring options for the building — one idea is to list it for sale.

Craig said when the academic entities moved out, only a handful of incubators remained. Rent for the space was calculated based on business income.

“If the place was full and being utilized, then I would have looked at whether to keep it open,” Craig said. “But with limited use of the building, the utilities and expense couldn’t be justified.”

For decades, the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was the headquarters of the Indiana Limestone Co. Its limestone exterior and unique interior design made it a natural place to house an exhibit on limestone.

The Land of Limestone exhibit, which is a collection of historic photographs and items telling the story of Lawrence County’s limestone industry, has been housed there since 1994.

More than 200 archival and architectural photographs, historical news accounts, official records, tools and other historical documents and displays are part of the exhibit.

Craig said he’s looked into removing the large photos that are wall mounted, but was told that removing them would likely damage them beyond repair.

“We’ve had someone take pictures and document all of it so if we want to reproduce this at another location that will be an option,” Craig said. “There are some items in there we will try to remove, but I’ve been told the majority cannot be removed and we’re still looking at options for that.”

Each June during Limestone Month, the exhibit was open to self-guided tours.

Tonya Chastain, director of Lawrence County Tourism, said she and Craig have discussed how the exhibit could be refreshed and placed in a new location, or possible taking elements of it to create a traveling exhibit that could go to schools.

“There are some early limestone tools in there that show how stone was quarried, it’s rich in history,” she said. “It does need updating and I have no idea the cost to recreate it but I think there would be grants out there to preserve that history. We’ll figure something out, it just will take some time.”

Opportunities for the public to visit quarries are rare, making the Land of Limestone exhibit the best way to keep the history alive.

Ron Bell is a local historian and has led limestone tours that included the Land of Limestone exhibit.

“It gives a timeline from year to year on the early development of limestone and it’s one of a few places in town where you could get a good review of what happened to the limestone industry,” Bell said. “Outside of that all you have is a few quarry holes and they can’t speak for themselves.”

Bell would like to see the exhibit relocated and knows there is interest in it.

He said he recently provided a limestone tour to some Indiana University professors who wanted to see the Land of Limestone exhibit, but the building was locked.

The challenge of relocating the exhibit, Bell said, is finding space. Two floors of long hallway walls are taken up with the exhibit photographs.

“We don’t have the infrastructure anywhere to support it,” Bell said.

The Downtown Depot might accommodate a portion of the exhibit, Bell said, or the downtown StoneGate.

Apart from the value of the exhibit, the building is, on its own, an important chapter of Lawrence County history, Bell said.

“The building holds a lot of our community’s history,” he said. “There are rooms where the blueprinting was done on a lot of buildings. Many of its features are displays on how to use limestone. The fireplaces ... the stairway shows the circular use of stone.”

Bell understands the economics involved in the decision, but worries about the future of a building with such significance.

“I think this community has struggled with how to protect the things our parents and grandparents thought were so important to the community,” he said.
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