Charles Edward checks out the new auditorium in the StoneGate Arts & Education Center during a tour of the learning center in November 2018. Staff photo by Rich Janzaruk
Charles Edward checks out the new auditorium in the StoneGate Arts & Education Center during a tour of the learning center in November 2018. Staff photo by Rich Janzaruk
BEDFORD — By April, the last of Bedford’s most ambitious Stellar Communities projects should be complete.

Since Bedford was named a Stellar city in 2013 and began project planning in 2014, it has moved an historic train depot, built an apartment building for seniors, razed a downtown building and built in its place StoneGate Arts & Education Center, constructed a new streetscape design downtown and completed a trail connector from the Milwaukee Trail to downtown.

The city received an initial investment of $19.8 million from the state, primarily from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, Indiana Department of Transportation and Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority.

Stellar projects are done in phases from initial planning toward implementation in a three- to five-year time frame.

The projects are wrapping up just as the city hits its five-year deadline for completing work.

The downtown facade project on the Atrium Dental building at 16th and J streets will be the final building to be upgraded. It has been delayed by structural problems but the work, which is under contract with T&G Construction, is expected to be completed in April.

A few small projects still remain on the city’s to-do list. Marla Jones, business and community development director, said those will be completed in 2019.

Those projects include a mural on a building wall beside Harp Commons, gateways on 16th Street at City Hall and near H Street and an upgraded facade on the Harp Commons stage.

The city applied to be a Stellar Community twice before being selected on its third application.

The work that went into being named a Stellar Community was just the beginning.

Looking back, Mayor Shawna Girgis said planning and completing the projects was more challenging than city planners had envisioned, “But with that being said, the end result is more than I envisioned as well.”

“People ask me all the time, ‘Was it worth it?’ and I say definitely yes. It was good for the community and we would have been remiss if we had not tried.”

The city’s projects addressed several issues, among them: workforce development, downtown, Main Street and quality of place.

Being a Stellar Community has done more for Bedford than just inject millions of dollars. It has served as a springboard to other opportunities.

When the Indiana University Center for Rural Engagement was looking for a city to launch its Sustaining Hoosier Communities initiative, it reached out to Lawrence County.

But it was Bedford’s Stellar designation and also its selection as Community of the Year by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce that raised its profile.

“Being chosen by IU to serve as the pilot county was the direct result of the Stellar and IU seeing Bedford as a true rural community but also an up and coming community,” Girgis said.

Marla Jones, the city’s business and community development director, has worn multiple hats overseeing projects.

It can be a challenge for cities to complete Stellar projects when unforeseen challenges arise.

“A lot of cities have a hard time getting their projects done,” she said. “We were able to get all our projects completed. We made a few changes in projects from our application … the money for our downtown business incubator project was approved by the state for our facade project. We made that change after seeing that with the new StoneGate project, the space at StoneGate North could serve as incubator space.”

“The state has been so helpful it accommodate us with making changes needs that best fit the needs of our community,” Girgis said.

One unexpected perk from the projects that addressed quality of place has been more people living downtown.

“We have more buildings downtown that are designed to have upper level living space. The seniors love living in the complex by city hall and people love the trail system,” Girgis said.

Comprehensive plan

The process to being named a Stellar community started with a comprehensive plan, which the city completed in 2010.

By this October, the city expects to have a new comprehensive plan that can be used by city leaders in the coming years.

Girgis and Jones said a series of meetings will take place later this year to draw public input.

“Even though this is my last year as mayor, I want our community to continue making progress and moving forward,” Girgis said.

“This plan lets citizens tell us what they want to see downtown just as they did in 2010,” Jones said. “We encourage folks to tell us what they’d like to see.”

© 2019 TMNews.com, Bedford, IN.