(BEDFORD) - Bedford Mayor Shawna Girgis and a team of city leaders approached the Lawrence County Commissioners seeking their support in a bid to secure the 2013 Stellar Community grant.
Girgis told the commissioners 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 April 29th full application deadline is fast approaching," Girgis says. "And we are getting ready for the on-site visit 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).
Girgis told the commissioners Marla Jones and Gene McCracken of the Lawrence County Economic Growth Council, Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce President Jamie Medlock, Lawrence County Community Foundation Executive Director Hope Flores, Hoosier Uplands CEO David Miller, and Bedford Director of Operations Kyle Brown were among others offering input to the city's plan.
Jones, McCracken and Medlock also gave input at the commissioners meeting.
"Our focus is on the downtown area," Girgis says. "We want to see it be a destination where people want to be."
Girgis shared that the proposal submitted by the city seeks to: ensure a trained and ready workforce; promote economic development; cultivate a vibrant downtown district; and enhance the city's quality of life.
Commissioner Bill Spreen likes that idea.
"Years ago downtown was the place to come to socialize, shop and eat," Spreen added. "It is not that way anymore."
Spreen says the money would make the square more attractive, but he has concerns with some of the plans.
"People in this county don't embrace change," Spreen says.
Girgis shared with the commissioners the groups wants 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.
"At first this had me upset, because we can't get money to repair our county roads," Spreen says. "But this money is set aside by INDOT for projects like moving the depot."
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."
Moving the depot to the square has the commissioners worried about what it will do to parking.
"Some have come to me about the ideas and say it is the most foolish thing they have ever heard," Spreen says. "And what does that have to do with enhancing the workforce in this county...That is a lot of money to spend (moving the depot) and in a large degree it goes against my conservative grain. I know for us to get this money we have to be united. We have a big decision to make, but right now I am just not ready to do that."
Spreen would like to hear more from the public about the proposed changes, before he gives his blessing.
Girgis relayed to the commissioners that parking is a top priority for the group and they are addressing the issue.
"For every space we lose on the square it will be replaced within a one block area," Girgis says. "We will make it happen. We have approached people about using their property to make sure it gets done. We also have thought about assigning parking spaced to county employees so they are guaranteed a parking space."
Commissioners Chris May and Dave Flnn are in favor of the projects and would like to see the county receive the funds, but they still have some concerns.
"We need to look at the big picture," May says. "But I would like to have some feedback from the public."
The commissioners also requested an artist rendition of the changes. Mayor Girgis would provide the commissioners with that.
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