Batesville Economic Development Commission members learned more about a downtown project Sept. 21.
The Batesville Area Arts Council, formerly Rural Alliance for the Arts, was awarded $50,000 in the spring round of the Washington, D.C.-based National Endowment for the Arts Our Town grants "to support land use planning, design and public art installations for a new pedestrian-oriented plaza in downtown Batesville," according to the NEA website at https://www.arts.gov.
The project requires a partnership between a nonprofit organization and a local government entity. In this case, BAAC and Batesville Main Street members have been partnering with city officials and are now seeking funding.
The area that the groups want to transform is Walnut Street between Pearl and George streets, reported Greg Wade, a Batesville Main Street board member and its Design Committee chair, in a June interview with The Herald-Tribune. At the BEDC meeting, he broadened the area to a rectangle bordered by Boehringer, Vine, Eastern and Catherine streets, "a six- to eight-block commercial core" with homes on the edges.
Wade explained the groups actually have $150,000 to work with because leaders raised $100,000 locally, in addition to the $50,000 grant.
He said the largest amount of money will be used for a public art installation. There are two other goals, a Walnut Street preliminary design and also land use planning, which is "really about public assets ... more streetscape projects, connectivity, walkability."
Before part of a city is transformed, usually a team is created "to make future projects and development happen." Members could draft detailed policy assessments or modify zoning ordinances "to look at what could be in the future."
Wade, a professional landscape architect at Context Design, Batesville and Fortville, continued, "There's an opportunity to collaborate with the city into making it ... more of a redevelopment planning process." Ultimately the team would make recommendations about implementation strategies.
He said $37,500 of the grant has been dedicated to land use planning. A real estate economist, architect and engineer should be involved. Wade estimated the total land use planning cost in the $75,000 range. He noted that figure could be reduced if local experts volunteer their services.
A zoning overlay ordinance draft would cost $20,000 more.
He was hopeful city officials could earmark around $37,500 to close the gap, or more if a zoning overlay ordinance was desired. Batesville Main Street leaders wanted a financial commitment from the city by early 2019.
BEDC President Kevin McGuire asked what would happen if there was a delay in the city approving money for this project.
"A little bit of a disconnect" was the Batesville Main Street board member's answer. He said Main Street and BAAC members want to focus on public improvements and "prioritize the many different initiatives that are being talked about and teeing those up for grant opportunities."
To gain various perspectives, a steering committee should be formed that includes one or two council members, plus BEDC and Batesville Redevelopment Commission representatives, he said.
Mayor Mike Bettice added the Batesville Advisory Plan Commission and Batesville Board of Zoning Appeals should be involved as well. He suggested including David Raver and Tim Macyauski because "those folks have been involved with planning and zoning for years."
Member J.B. Showalter asked about the project's timeline. Wade estimated planning would take six to nine months, which would include "multiple city engagement sessions, a lot of data gathering." Results would include a conceptual master plan and cost models, then a refined plan after community input.
The $50,000 in grant money must be spent before August 2020.
McGuire admitted, "I like the concept, but I'm having difficulty visualizing the final product." The landscape architect pointed out, "We've got a lot of good plans in the past to help build off of." His company has completed similar projects in Fishers, Yorktown (an identically-sized community to Batesville), Daleville and Plainfield. Wade promised to share documents and web links of those projects.
Member Andy Saner asked if the grant was limited to downtown. The answer was yes.
Saner was pleased Wade mentioned an overlay district plan as the recent comprehensive plan noted one is needed. "The other thing I like a lot: They'd be bringing almost 40 percent of the estimated cost from a grant ($37,500 out of $95,000). I appreciate what you have done there."
"This is (strategic) thinking beyond one street improvement (Walnut), which we just used for Oktoberfest last weekend ... the corridor becomes a great focal point for the entrance to our city ... It feels like a good opportunity to take advantage of money on the table."
Saner asked if city the allots funding, could that be used as money for a future NEA matching grant? Wade will ask.
Member Kevin Campbell wondered if there are grants available to implement plans. Member Ginnie Faller suggested applying for one or more Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs grants.
Economic development director Sarah Lamping said finding project funding "has always been one of our drawbacks. These grant opportunities come up, but we don't have a project that is part of a bigger plan."
Faller noted backing a pedestrian-oriented plaza "allows us to get behind something" that will better Batesville.
Saner said, "It feels like a sharpening of the comprehensive plan ... We don't want to have a plan that just sits on the shelf."
Showalter told Wade, "There are a lot of different groups with a lot of great ideas and it seems we all have to get on the same page and that's what you're trying to do."
McGuire wanted to talk with clerk-treasurer Paul Gates and the mayor to determine if money is available "so by the first of the year we know how Main Street can best serve the community."
Saner added, "I think understanding what that steering committee looks like is really important."
McGuire asked commission members to give him their questions. He also wanted to see plans Wade has done in other communities. The landscape architect will share links of other projects and an outline of the process.