Construction continues at Depot Street Park in Greenfield, made possible by the city's inclusion in Indiana's Stellar Communities Program. (Mitchell Kirk | Daily Reporter)
Construction continues at Depot Street Park in Greenfield, made possible by the city's inclusion in Indiana's Stellar Communities Program. (Mitchell Kirk | Daily Reporter)
HANCOCK COUNTY — Community development is an uphill climb, said Joan Fitzwater, Greenfield’s planning director.

“You spend a lot of time working on community engagement, and community planning, and input, and you set your goals and then you reach this plateau where you have to spend your time actually implementing those goals,” she told those who gathered for the Greenfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s monthly luncheon earlier this week.

But thanks to a state program the city along with Hancock County and Fortville have been a part of for the past three years, they’ve been able to skip that plateau in many ways and continue climbing upward.

“For us, we got really lucky with our Stellar designation that is helping us to realize our goals and actually build some of the projects that will help us meet our vision,” Fitzwater said.

She was referring to Indiana’s Stellar Communities Program, into which a partnership among the city, county and town was accepted in 2018. The designation is providing $15 million in community improvement projects. Those funds have been matched by millions of dollars from local sources and have been joined by additional grants that have been leveraged, growing the benefits even more. They’re helping the communities achieve objectives by helping to fund developments like new outdoor amenities, housing and historical building improvements.

A partnership of several state government agencies powers the Stellar Communities Program, including the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, Housing and Community and Development Authority, Department of Transportation and Department of Health, among others.

One product of the program is Depot Street Park in downtown Greenfield, estimated for completion next month with a grand opening slated for next June. Located along the Pennsy Trail, the park will feature public art and a stage. The project stemmed from a desire outlined in a 2013 downtown revitalization plan to expand the downtown’s footprint away from State and Main streets.

The park is also next to the historical grain elevator that recently finished a transition to The Depot restaurant and bar.

“One of the big reasons for municipal and state governments investing in public spaces like this is the private investment that it initiates, and the grain elevator is a great, great example of that,” Fitzwater said.

Another outdoor project resulting from the Stellar Communities Program is a recreational trail in Shirley. Both work toward the local Stellar partnership’s goals of improving cultural amenities and tourism, Fitzwater said.

“We hope to increase the number of attendees within our community by building great spaces that they’ll want to come to,” she said. “This in turn of course promotes economic development, social interaction opportunities and it serves our ever-growing population.”

Fortville is benefiting from the Stellar program through an award that will help fund a 58-unit apartment building at 215 S. Madison Street. The apartments will be for those making certain percentages of area median income, and the development aligns with the Stellar partnership’s goal of providing housing serving all income levels.

“It’s very important to not just seek out higher-income housing or even average-income housing,” Fitzwater said. “It’s very important that, as a community that has social responsibility, that we find housing for all people within our community and help them rise up.”

MVAH Partners, the development firm based in West Chester Township, Ohio behind the Fortville apartment complex, also wants to build a senior housing property next to the workforce housing. The firm was not awarded funding assistance from the state during its first attempt, but it plans to apply again.

“It was really our idea to bring more than just what was in the Stellar plan,” Pete Schwiegeraht of MVAH Partners said at a Fortville Town Council meeting earlier this week.

Local matches included, Stellar is bringing about $700,000 in facade improvements to six buildings in downtown Greenfield and about $300,000 to two buildings in downtown Fortville.

Increasing the square-footage able to be leased in both downtowns is another outcome identified in the Stellar pursuits.

“I think Greenfield’s identity is very much wrapped up in … the quiet asset of our historic structures,” Fitzwater said.

The Stellar projects must be completed by 2023. One is slated for Fortville that year that will reduce the number of lanes on Broadway between Garden Street and Madison Street to allow for the installation of pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, access control and dedicated left turn lanes.

Stellar has also led to complementary projects, like an inclusive playground near the baseball diamonds behind Greenfield Central Junior High School, and the completion of Lizabuth Ann’s Kitchen, an event space downtown.

Maintenance on all of the projects spurred by Stellar is important to remember looking to the future, Fitzwater said, adding an endowment fund was established through the Hancock County Community Foundation to help with such expenses.
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