“If you only fix the things on the surface what might you have in 20 years? What might you have when the shininess of all the new things wears off?” Mayor Todd Barton rhetorically asked the crowd gathered at Crawfordsville’s Stellarbration Friday morning at Marie Canine Plaza.

Barton said Crawfordsville’s Stellar Communities plan gets at the heart of what the community needs to grow and flourish, not just the superficial.

“Crawfordsville’s Stellar proposal isn’t just about facades, it goes much, much deeper,” he said. “Our proposed plan is driven by community input. The premise is simple and straightforward: if you want to build a community where people want to live, work and play—listen to those very people.” 

Indiana Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann, representatives from the state agencies who looked at the plan, city department heads, officials, politicians and other dignitaries from Crawfordsville and Montgomery County joined the party on the Plaza to celebrate Crawfordsville’s designee status.

Barton had a long list of thank-yous for the hard work city employees, elected officials and consultants have put in over the past four years of trying and failing to secure the grant. He said the grant is a reflection of the community’s input through attending public meetings and filling out surveys. He said the city received feedback from thousands of citizens throughout the process.

“Each year we were able to continue refining that vision, making it clearer and more impactful,” Barton said. “I am convinced that four years of hard work has culminated in a plan that is truly transformative. A plan that will guide us forward and strike at the very core of our most challenging problems.”

Ellspermann applauded the city’s efforts and persistence in applying year after year.

“You have come together, you have persisted for four years in your efforts to become one of Indiana’s Stellar Communities,” she said. “You join a unique group of communities across Indiana that we call Stellar. We know you are going to do great things.”

Director of Planning and Community Development Brandy Allen was singled out by Barton as one of the major forces behind the success of this year’s plan. She said even the plans that have lost over the last few years have had some success. For example, she cited improvements to the Culver Union Hospital site, beautifying downtown and getting started on improving the Ben Hur Building.

“Throughout those four years we have had more opportunity for public input,” Allen said. “All of this public input has allowed us to refine our vision.”

Through the input and help from the state, Barton said the city was also able to develop a plan for Safe Routes to School, an ADA transition plan, a bike and pedestrian plan, a downtown revitalization plan and a parks and recreation master plan.

“We’ve been listening, we’ve been planning and Crawfordsville truly is primed for Stellar transformation,” Barton said.

Barton said the plan addresses community problems in a comprehensive way. One of first problems the city wanted to address is how to keep young people in Crawfordsville, bring natives back and attract new millennials.

“We know our population is stable until age 22. It then takes a dip until age 35 or so. That is a trend that we must change,” Barton said. “Our proposal sets out to address these challenges because they are so vital to our future success.”

He said the pocket park and trail extensions add a place for the community to gather downtown. He said this will also be a boon for visitors because the trail will connect the most popular attractions. He said the Whitlock neighborhood’s planned transformation will be another tourist draw, as well as the Ben Hur Building upgrades.

“We didn’t stop there, we dove beneath the surface to create long-term change in a powerful way,” Barton said. “We propose to fundamentally change how we do business. It’s an out-of-the-box concept that is innovative and, I think, powerful.”

The Fusion 54 Center is the crown jewel of the plan and a passion of Barton’s. The center will bring together the Visitors Bureau, Wabash College Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the Chamber of Commerce, Crawfordsville Main Street and volunteer centers all in one building.

“Everyone can talk about putting a park here and trail there but when you really are willing to change how you do business, that sets us apart,” he said.

Barton said this will change the way business is done and prime the community for “explosive growth.” He believes Fusion will put Crawfordsville on the map and draw attention to Indiana and the Stellar Communities grant program. He said the entrepreneurship portion can draw and keep young people and the volunteer center can give people purpose and the ability to help out in the community like never before. He said providing more staff and having a presence right on U.S. 231 will be a powerful tool for visitors.

“The concept of putting all of these entities together at the magnitude that we are proposing creates an unmatched level of synergy,” Barton said. “And the ability to propel the community forward like never before.”

Barton said the city and the state will be in conversations soon to determine what projects get state funding and how and when the city can proceed. If the city could get all of the funding it has applied for, he said it would be around $17 million. However, he said that state funding is only half the battle, there are also other avenues that have to be pursued to meet the full cost.

Allen said the process of completing the projects probably will not start for a few years, but there will be plenty of planning and preparing for the projects in the meantime. She said it will probably be three to five years before construction begins.

“As we roll up our sleeves and get to work there is going to be a lot happening around the community – a lot of these projects are going to require a lot of construction,” Allen said. “You are going to see a lot of things change quickly in the next few years.”

Barton said he is excited to get started on the next steps in the process, but Crawfordsville should take time to Stellarbrate first.

“There is much work ahead of us, and it will soon be time for all of us to roll up our sleeves and make this transformation a reality,” Barton said. “But today – today we celebrate because Crawfordsville is Stellar.”

© 2020 The Paper of Montgomery County