Seymour finalist for new program

Seymour has been chosen as one of six semifinalists in a new state program to help improve small Hoosier communities.

The Hometown Collaboration Initiative is designed to provide assistance to strengthen the local economy, develop leadership and address the attractiveness and quality of life in communities with fewer than 25,000 people.

Five communities will be accepted into the program, with winners to be announced in early 2015.

Mayor Craig Luedeman said he is excited to be in the running for the HCI designation, which will allow Seymour to partner with either Ball State University or Purdue University in coming up with and implementing ways to make the city better.

If Seymour is chosen, the study and work that result from the program would focus on Seymour’s downtown, he said.

The next step in the selection process will take place next week when a team from the state visits Seymour to see and learn more about the community. At that time, city officials will have a chance to provide details and present their case on why Seymour should be chosen to participate.

Initial grant funding will be around $15,000 for the early phase of the program, Luedeman said, but could lead to much larger grants.

The program allows communities to choose one of three areas to focus its efforts on — leadership, economy or place making.

Luedeman said he chose place making because he continues to look for ways to revitalize the downtown and thinks this may be a good way to get more done.

“With all the industrial investment we are seeing, I felt that the economy was rolling, and we have good leadership in place,” he said. “It’s time to focus on place making, especially in the downtown.”

The goal is to improve the downtown in ways to draw people to it and get other activity going, he added.

The place-making team will examine ways to build on the community’s natural and built resources by taking stock of physical assets and integrating the arts, culture and historic preservation into the downtown.

“It will require us to think outside the box,” he said. “They will come in and pick apart our community from a place-making standpoint and then give us recommendations to run with.”

Luedeman said getting things started is one of the city’s biggest weaknesses.

“We’ve got a lot of great buildings downtown that are ready to be purchased and made better,” he said. “But as a city we don’t want to be the landlords. Our job is to encourage investment and make Seymour a place where businesses can grow and prosper.”

The program will allow the city to save money by not having to hire an expensive engineering firm to do the initial work.

One requirement is that communities must have input and buy-in from local residents, businesses, not-for-profits and other organizations.

Luedeman gives credit to

Dr. Nate Otte, a local optometrist and Tonya Couch, director of Jackson County United Way, for their involvement in getting Seymour in the second round of the HCI program.

“We have a group of young professionals in this community that are getting together to change the community,” Luedeman said.

He also applauds downtown building owners such as Tom Goecker who are investing money to make buildings more attractive to current tenants and to attract new businesses. Goecker has refashioned the façades of Artistic Impressions and brought a new coffee shop, Java Joint, downtown. He has at least two more storefronts and upstairs apartments that he continues to work on.

The HCI program is being administered by the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs. Luedeman said Seymour has been successful in the past at securing funding from OCRA for projects such as the downtown pocket park.

Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann announced the semi-finalists Tuesday. Besides Seymour, they are Corydon, Lebanon, Rushville, Perry County and Pulaski County.

“You are taking important steps to ensure a strong foundation is in place for community and economic development,” Ellspermann said. “I am confident this approach will help cities and towns attract and retain businesses and residents alike.”

Author photo
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.