The Grant County Economic Growth Council discussed the possibility of turning over the downtown revitalization project to Main Street Marion during its monthly meeting Tuesday.

Executive Director Tim Eckerle provided an update for the project, saying that while he has a working knowledge in some of the key elements brought up by project manager Scott Burgins, of SB Research Consulting, such as facade improvements, streetscapes and infrastructure improvements, the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA) favors main street groups in their grant applications.

"There are basically two separate projects going on right now," Eckerle said. "One is with developers and bankers pushing for projects downtown, and then there's us working on the market study ... so we'd be more than happy to give that to the main street group." 

OCRA Liaison Andrea Kearn previously explained to the Chronicle-Tribune that having a main street organization and a full-time director accounts for a large portion of the points used to determine grant recipients in the application review process. As much as $600,000 in OCRA funding is up for grabs for downtown revitalization projects.

During the meeting, Tim Street, former Growth Council president and current Bahr Brothers Manufacturing president, raised concerns on how much the council is “on the hook,” financially for this project.

Eckerle said they’ve invested $3,000 of the council’s own money for Burgins to create a scope and cost for a makeover of downtown Marion. He mentioned that the City of Marion has had a total of eight downtown plans, two of which have been adopted by the city.

“If we’ve had eight others, what makes this one any different?” Street asked.

“The difference is going to be collective ownership of this plan,” Eckerle said. “But still, even if it’s successful, it will still be plan number nine.”

Street said he understood the Growth Council remodeling downtown was “not our cup of tea.”

Eckerle said previous plans haven’t included downtown developers, but a meeting in early November involving business owners around the courthouse square and other stakeholders “brought everyone into the loop.”

“How can you make a decision when you have people unaware? … We’re working on building a foundation of knowledge and trust, giving developers a range of controls,” he said.

Anne Duncan, of the Growth Council, said “the line between economic development and community development is being blurred,” and Director of Marketing Mikayla Marazzi said the project is taking a large focus on quality of life and place rather than attracting talent.

No definitive decision was made during the Tuesday meeting on whether to turn the project over, but Eckerle indicated future conversations about the downtown project and the Growth Council’s involvement will take place. The next meeting discussing the future of downtown will take place Wednesday, Dec. 5 at 10 a.m. inside City Hall.

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