Mayor Joe Yochum on Monday painted a bright picture for Indiana's oldest city during his annual State of the City address.
During his nearly hour-long speech, Yochum touted efforts made by his city department heads to provide vital services all while keeping their budgets lean — even going through each department specifically to cite accomplishments and improvements made over the last year.
And infrastructure, he said, has never been better. Millions of dollars have been invested in the last three years thanks to the state's Community Crossings Matching Grant program.
An ongoing $5 million reconstruction of Main Street from 22nd Street out to Jamestown Apartments, too, will kick start a multi-year, three-phase effort to improve that street all the way out to the county line.
City officials also just this week took the first steps in a mostly federally-funded $7 million reconstruction of Washington Avenue, one that will focus on Emison Avenue near the Washington Christian Center north to Belle Crossing and include a totally new road bed as well as curbs and gutters, bike lanes, new lighting, sidewalks, better storm water drainage and sanitary sewers. That project is set to get underway in 2022.
Downtown, too, has two new parking lots, the mayor said, projects taken on by the city’s Redevelopment Commission to help with what downtown merchants say is a lack of parking.
Local housing, too, is being bolstered by the upcoming construction of Riverview Lofts, a more than 30-unit affordable housing complex to be located on the banks of the Wabash River.
Vincennes University, too, will begin later this year construction on a $15 million student housing development just south of campus, a sprawling French Creole-inspired complex to house 200 students.
“I think that will be amazing when it’s complete,” the mayor said, “a showpiece.”
New businesses are opening right and left, Yochum said, and he teased of even more to come.
“There’s been a lot of positive business growth in Vincennes this year, and I would anticipate even more,” he said. “We’ve got growth everywhere.”
County partnerships, too, are effecting economic development and change, Yochum said. He pointed to the Pantheon Business Theater, a small business incubator and shared workspace to be housed in the downtown theater at 428 Main St.
Members of the Pantheon Board are currently considering contracts for interior construction, and they hope work can begin this summer.
County and city elected officials have agreed to split the expected $2.5 million cost and will jointly hold the deed to the downtown property.
Additional industrial expansion, too, is possible with the recent designation of more than 100 acres in the U.S. 41 Industrial Park. That ground just last month, under the leadership of the Knox County Development Corp., was declared "gold-rated" by state officials, meaning it's prime for development.
More improvements, too, are planned for various departments, including a major upgrade of the Vincennes Animal Shelter at 1128 River Road, and an ongoing restoration of the enclosed shelter house at Gregg Park.
“We’re all working together to make Knox County a great place to live and raise a family,” Yochum said. “We’re all on the same bus, headed the same direction for the same reason.”
Recent progress, he added, has spawned a new initiative being taken on by members of his Youth Council, a group of local high school students. Their new “My Town, My Pride” campaign, he said, will focus on the creation of T-shirts to be sold as a fundraiser.
“The thought behind this is to try to build even more pride in our community,” the mayor said. “Hopefully, what they’re doing will build pride in Vincennes, make it to where everybody is excited about their community.
“It’s as simple as walking down the street and, if you see a piece of trash, pick it up,” Yochum said. “Do your part to keep (Vincennes) looking nice.”
Also as part of the mayor’s State of the City address, representatives from Seymour’s Reedy Financial Group told the group gathered at City Hall, 201 Vigo St., that the city’s financial status is at an all-time high.
City officials weathered well the property tax caps established in 2008, legislation that resulted in a 30-percent reduction in revenue each of the last nine years, according to Brandon Robbins, a senior manager with Reedy.
That’s a total of $22 million, he said, that wasn’t collected.
Still, Vincennes has weathered the storm, Robbins said, and is posed well for the future.
Due to careful planning, city officials over the last five years have invested $10 million in capital improvements, and a secure financial plan, one directed by Reedy, will allow for even more in the future.
City officials, too, by 2022 should have 180 days’ worth of revenue in cash reserves, a security net Robbins called “fantastic.”
Assessed valuation, too, is trending upwards thanks, in large part, to ongoing economic development here.
“There was the storm, you weathered it,” Robbins said, “and now you have greener grass on the other side.”