Construction of a downtown park and outdoor pavilion in Brownstown could begin this spring.
Town officials learned Monday the community was one of seven in Indiana chosen to receive a Place Based Investment grant from the state to help fund such projects.
The $50,000 grant will allow the town to begin developing Heritage Park on property that once housed a feed mill and other businesses and was the site of a devastating fire several years ago that destroyed a couple of buildings.
In 2014, the town purchased the property on the north side of the courthouse square for $45,000. It took two weeks to demolish buildings on the 0.45-acre site at 121 E. Walnut St.
A $155,000 federal grant helped pay for the purchase and the $64,562 cost to demolish the two feed mill buildings and a silo. To receive the grant, the town had to agree to retain ownership of the property for seven years or repay the grant.
Officials and Brownstown residents envision Heritage Park as a gathering place and focal point for the community that will be used heavily during the Jackson County Watermelon Festival, the annual Columbus City Band performance on the last Sunday of June and other outdoor events.
Plans for the future park include an open-air performance stage and green space to support such activities as outdoor reading sessions, educational programs, musicals, dramatic performances, outdoor movies, a farmers market, community festivals and 5K races.
This year is the bicentennial for Brownstown, Jackson County and Indiana, and events associated with those celebrations also are being planned to take place at the new park.
Plans for building the park were delayed after the town was unsuccessful in bids to secure grant money last year. However, a committee of local residents has been able to raise about $20,000 in donations on its own. The project also received a $5,000 Community Impact Grant in 2015 from the Community Foundation of Jackson County.
The $50,000 grant comes from a partnership between the Indiana Office of Tourism Development and the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, both overseen by Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann.
“(These grants) encourage local partners to collaborate with one another on ways to create a quality of place where Hoosiers want to live, work and raise a family,” Ellspermann said. “I commend each community for taking the initiative to enhance their existing assets and build upon Indiana’s tourism destinations that will provide our hometowns with increasing economic prosperity and quality of life.”
Once town council President John Nolting announced at the end of Monday night’s meeting that Brownstown had received the grant, council member Bethany Brewster quickly made a motion to accept it. That led to a unanimous vote.
“That is great news. This grant certainly is a nice boost,” Brewster said.
“It’s a good way to get the new year started,” Nolting added.
The next step will be for the nine-member committee working on the project to select the style of stage it wants to see constructed. The committee had received a couple of artist renderings earlier last year but didn’t know how much money they would have for the project.
“We had applied for a couple of other grants and gotten turned down, so we weren’t holding our breath on this one,” Nolting said.
But with the state grant, the town can now move forward with construction of the 50-foot-by-50-foot stage. Nolting said the plans are to have the stage built 2 feet off of the ground and to put a roof over it. As money is available, restrooms and a storage area will be added, Nolting said.
“I think as soon as the weather breaks, we’ve got enough money to get started on this thing,” he said. “My goal is to have this thing done definitely by the end of 2016. But I think once that stage starts getting built, it shouldn’t take that long.”
Brownstown Clerk-Treasurer David Willey said the park committee hopes to design and build a roof for the stage that will blend well with the neighboring Brownstown Public Library and Jackson County Courthouse.
“It should really tie in nicely with the other buildings and really look nice,” Willey said.
The committee has received donations from local residents, businesses and organizations. That includes Brownstown Electric Supply Co. donating electricity and light poles. Nolting said the committee also may pursue donations from local industries.
“I think there’s still a lot of money out there that we can get donated to this project,” he said.
Two pieces of property next to the new park also are for sale, and the town council has discussed the possibility of purchasing those lots. But the grant money can’t be used for that purpose.
“I would still love to get a hold of those two pieces of property,” Nolting said.
Other recipients of the state grants, which ranged from $25,000 to $50,000, are the city of Decatur, which will restore a former train depot to be used for community events; the town of Middlebury, which will create a pedestrian trail system; the city of New Castle, which will install a public art display; the town of New Haven, which will build a performance space in a park; Owen County, which will develop trails; and Vigo County, which will develop a 300-acre bike park in Terre Haute.
Tribune reporter Zach Spicer contributed to this article.
The next meeting of the Heritage Park committee is set for 10 a.m. Monday at Brownstown Town Hall, 200 W. Walnut St.
The town’s grant writer, Shannon McLeod, will be in attendance.
To contribute to the Brownstown Heritage Park Fund, visit the Community Foundation of Jackson County, 107 Community Drive, Seymour, or call 812-523-4483.
Checks also can be mailed to the foundation at P.O. Box 1231, Seymour, IN 47274. Checks should be made payable to “Community Foundation of Jackson County” with “Brownstown Heritage Park Fund” written in the memo.
Anyone interested in volunteering labor once work begins on the park can call Brownstown Town Hall at 812-358-5500.