HANCOCK COUNTY — The two Hancock County groups vying to be part of the state’s Stellar Communities program have been named among the six finalists for the grant package.
Fortville and Greenfield, working together as the Health and Heritage region, and Cumberland, McCordsville and New Palestine, joining forces as the Mt. Comfort Road Corridor group, were selected as finalists for the statewide grant program that aims to reward collaborative, regional community and economic development.
Being selected means these community groups are eligible for up to $15 million in funding from several different state agencies including the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, Indiana Department of Transportation and the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority.
This is the first year the Stellar Communities program has required submissions come from community groups rather than individual municipalities. Project plans from the two local groups call for downtown revitalization, street improvements, trails and new parks, among other ideas.
The six finalists from around the state will now finish their region’s overall development plans and prepare to submit them to the state before a final selection is made, officials said. The communities have about four months to really hone in on their project plans before the final submission is due in August.
Two grant winners will be announced in November.
But being selected as a finalist is a nice payoff for something that has been in the works for almost five years, said Jenna Wertman, Greenfield’s associate planner.
“Going all the way back to our 2013 revitalization plan, this is something we’ve been working towards,” she said.
For Greenfield specifically, the city would like to create a new park in the heart of downtown that could act as an anchor for the community, Wertman said. Their plans also include renovations to the James Whitcomb Riley Boyhood Home and finishing the Riley Literary Trail.
Greenfield’s partner, Fortville, has plans to build new housing units as well as upgrade some of the town’s neighborhoods, according to Adam Zaklikowski, the town’s planning administrator.
Fortville is focused on a neo-traditional design of their downtown that will keep the small town look and feel. Winning the Stellar program would help them accomplish those goals, he said.
“We’re optimistic about our chances,” he said. “We feel like we have a really great plan.”
The Mt. Comfort Road Corridor project will largely focus on improving the stretch of County Road 600W that connects Cumberland, McCordsville and New Palestine. There will be a big focus on infusing the corridor with smart technology, adding fiber optics to entice businesses and improving overall traffic flow.
But each town has a list of projects it would like to tackle with the grant money. Ryan Crum, director of planning and building in McCordsville, said they would like to add Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the town, improve some neighborhoods and create a street-scape along State Road 67.
In New Palestine, town manager David Book said their wish list includes new playground equipment in Lions Club Park, improvements to the town hall and adding more decorative streetlights along Mt. Comfort Road.
“It’s basically going to allow us to do a whole face lift from the town,” Book said.
Improving the gateways from Mt. Comfort Road into those three communities is a big theme of the plan as well.
Christine Owens, assistant town manager for Cumberland, said nearly everything ties back to the corridor. The improved gateways would welcome more visitors into the towns, hopefully improving tourism. Cumberland would also like to improve their wastewater treatment plant, in case the town population grows like they are projecting, Owens said.
Officials from both groups said it was a testament to the work the county is doing that both of the Hancock County groups were selected as finalists.
“I think it really says a lot about the county as a whole to have both of us picked,” Crum said. “We’re getting lots of recognition from around the state for the work we’re doing.”