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Commissioners, County Council Give Support Of Stellar Grant

Last updated on Wednesday, April 24, 2013

(BEDFORD) - Bedford Mayor Shawna Girgis approached the commissioners and Chamber of Commerce President Jamie Medlock approached the county council seeking their support in a bid to secure the 2013 Stellar Community grant.

The commissioners and county council both passed resolutions to support the City of Bedford in landing the grant and will contribute $500,000 of economic development funds to the projects, if the grant is awarded.

"We are all behind this 100 percent," Commissioner President Bill Spreen says. "We are looking at this as it not only benefits Bedford, but Lawrence County. We are all putting our best foot forward to secure these funds."

Girgis and Medlock told the commissioners and council members they are fine-tuning their proposal as they prepare for a formal presentation to the committee responsible for awarding the two 2013 Stellar Community grants. The application deadline is Monday. There will be an onsite visit from the grant committee members on May 21.

The city learned in March the city is among six finalists contending for the grants designed to fund comprehensive community development projects in Indiana's smaller communities.

The finalists are Angola, Bedford, Frankfort, Petersburg, Richmond and Wabash. This is the third year for the Stellar program. Bedford was a finalist in 2011, but failed to advance in 2012 when 40 communities applied for the highly-competitive grants.

Twenty-four sought the awards this year.

If Bedford receives the grant they could reap up to $12 million dollars.

The stellar project is a joint endeavor between the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA), the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA), and the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT).

Commissioner Dave Flinn read the ordinance to those attending the meeting which stated the grant would be used to ensure a trained and ready workforce; promote economic development; cultivate a vibrant downtown district; and enhance the city's quality of life, among other improvements.

Commissioner Bill Spreen likes that idea and thanked city officials for all their hard work in becoming a finalist.

Spreen says the money would make the square more attractive, but he had concerns with some of the plans.

Girgis says the goal is to transform the city's hub into a popular gathering place.
To accomplish that goal the plan proposes refashioning the old JC Penney Building, which once served as the Downtown Convention Center, into the Stonegate Arts & Education Center.

The old Milwaukee Depot would be moved to the courthouse square opposite Harp Commons. The renovated rail station would serve as a trail head leading to an urban trail, public plaza, festival space, and senior rental housing. And hopefully in the future when the city secures a deal with CSX to purchase the railroad it can be used as a connection from Bedford to Mitchell.

Girgis told the commissioner the building could also be use as the tourism center for Bedford.

The Indiana Department of Transportation would provide the city with an estimated half a million dollars to move the depot to the square.

But the commissioners were concerned what that would do to the parking situation downtown.

Girgis shared the group is in the works of securing an area of land at 14th and J streets to place the depot instead of putting it on the square, which would preserve the parking.
"We are working on an option to purchase the property now, but it has not been finalized," Girgis says.

Girgis relayed to the commissioners that parking is a top priority for the group and they are addressing the issue.

Hoosier Uplands would spearhead development of the senior apartments, facade restoration, and downtown business development by renovating retail space and offering it to businesses at "below-market lease rates that will gradually increase over time and allow for the purchase of the building."

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