GREENFIELD — Millions of dollars in grants will soon start pouring into Greenfield, Fortville and Hancock County — the region picked as one of the two Stellar Communities in Indiana for 2018.
The Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs announced the Health and Heritage Region as a Stellar designee on Tuesday, following months of planning by a team of local officials. A second finalist from Hancock County, a collaboration among New Palestine, Cumberland and McCordsville, was not selected.
The two winners — a group of communities from northeastern Indiana also was selected — will each receive up to $15 million in grants to fast-track economic development and quality-of-life projects over five years. Representatives with Fortville, Greenfield and Hancock County plan to use the funds for housing projects, park upgrades, trail extensions and other added amenities.
Greenfield Mayor Chuck Fewell said being named a Stellar Community allows the area to be progressive.
“We were elated,” Fewell said. “You can’t describe anything as great as hearing that you’re going to push forward. This gives us an opportunity to grow as a city and bring amenities that’s going to allow citizens to enjoy the fruits of the hard work that took place to make this happen.”
The Greenfield-Fortville-Hancock County team focused its regional plan on health, heritage and heart — preserving the historic components of the region while still adding new, modern amenities.
“My initial thought was, oh my gosh, now that the state has given us this award, how are we going to live up to this? We’ve got to make the state proud of their selection,” said Joanie Fitzwater, planning director for Greenfield.
Health and Heritage has 15 projects it wants to complete over the next four to five years — split among Greenfield, Hancock County and Fortville, said Jenna Wertman, associate city planner.
In Greenfield and Hancock County, that includes renovations to the Riley Boyhood Home, adding inclusive playground equipment at Franklin Park, creating a park along Depot Street downtown, building the Riley Literary Trail, improvements to the Memorial Building, extending the Pennsy Trail and paying for multiple beds at the Talitha Koum Women’s Recovery House for county residents.
Fortville’s anchor project is Broadway Commons, said the town’s planning director, Adam Zaklikowski. Forza Development, out of Zionsville, will apply for tax credits through the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority to cover the costs of a mixed-use building with retail/office/restaurant space on the first floor and “workforce development” housing on the top floor.
Zaklikowski said the housing project will get built on the land where Broadway Carwash sits as well as the adjacent vacant lot, at the corner Broadway and Madison streets. Zaklikowski also said the money the town is spending on the Main Street reconstruction project and Mt. Vernon trail project will get rolled over into the Stellar match.
“We’re really excited and definitely honored,” Zaklikowski said. We want to make the most of it.”
Wertman said it was a “no-brainer” for Greenfield to collaborate with Fortville for the grant program, as both municipalities have historic downtowns and a surge in entrepreneurship as of late.
“We want to grow in all these other ways, but we don’t want to lose these cores that we have,” she said.
Fitzwater said the city will have to apply for the grants that are awarded through Stellar over the next few years, and Greenfield will continue to seek public input on design along the way.
“People have to understand, we’re excited, but you’re not going to see this pop up instantly and have new amenities everywhere and say, ‘wow, that’s quick,’” Fewell added. “It’s a time-driven opportunity, and we’re going to take our time and do things right.”
OCRA, which is overseen by the office of Indiana Lt. Gov Suzanne Crouch, launched Stellar in 2011 and has since designated 14 different cities and towns across the state. This year is the first time the grant program focused on regional initiatives instead of specific municipalities turning in applications.
Crouch said in a phone interview with the Daily Reporter that state officials were impressed with how the Health and Heritage Region demonstrated sound leadership, collaboration and planning. She appreciated how the group wanted to preserve the history of the area while also creating new cultural amenities and developing trails and park improvements for people of all ages and for those with disabilities.
“Seeing how they were going to accomplish that, to us, set them apart,” Crouch said. “We want regional communities to be able to demonstrate how they can transform a community, how they are planning for the future.”
Crouch also commended the Mt. Comfort Gateway Corridor group — Cumberland, McCordsville and New Palestine — as being among the five finalist Stellar regions.
“It speaks to the leadership of Hancock County that you all were able to generate two Stellar finalists,” she said.
Leaders of the Mt. Comfort Gateway group — including Dave Book, the town manager in New Palestine; and Tonya Galbraith, McCordsville’s town manager — were disappointed at being passed over. The group gathered Tuesday morning to await word of the awards.
“As we sit here right now, we don’t know whether we are relieved or mad,” Book said. “It’s just going to take a little time to absorb all of this.”
Projects suggested from the corridor group included workforce housing in Cumberland, a roundabout at Mt. Comfort Road and County Road 600N as well as pocket parks and an interactive street in New Palestine.
Their project also proposed a town center in McCordsville, renovations to a historic New Palestine building and a new facility at the intersection of Buck Creek and Pennsy trails in Cumberland.