Downtown Seymour has seen better days.
There are nearly a dozen empty store fronts, and several buildings are in poor shape; a couple with broken and boarded-up windows.
But who is responsible for addressing those problems, and why isn’t anything being done?
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Seymour Mayor Craig Luedeman said it takes more than just him or the city’s planning and zoning department to make a difference. The burden of maintaining the upkeep of a building falls on the property owner, he said.
And in some cases, those owners don’t live in Seymour or they don’t have the money or motivation to fix up their buildings, he added.
Although it may look like the city is doing nothing to address the issue, Luedeman said that is far from the truth.
“It’s a process, unfortunately, but there is a lot going on behind the scenes,” he said. “I’ve been in a lot of meetings and talking to different investors to get them excited about our downtown and interested in buying buildings.”
One of those investors is Mike Kopp from New Albany who was instrumental in bringing Rails Craft Brew & Eatery to the downtown.
“He has done a lot of work here and has bought a few buildings himself,” Luedeman said.
Kopp was involved with the revitalization of downtown New Albany, which Luedeman said took five years.
“We are getting a lot of heat that we aren’t getting it done faster,” Luedeman said. “But we are just in year two of that five-year time period.”
Another investor who has been vital to downtown revitalization efforts is Tom Goecker of Seymour.
He has invested money in the downtown by purchasing and renovating a few buildings that have attracted new businesses and visitors such as Rails Craft Brew and Eatery, Java Joint coffee shop and Beautiful Chaos. He also has renovated the second floors of the buildings and turned them into apartments.
But for some, the price of fixing up a building is too much of an investment to consider.
“The condition of downtown is sad,” said Josh Lakins. “The empty buildings are all in bad shape.”
Lakins is a co-owner of Twisted Crew Brewery in Seymour. He said he has looked at most of the available buildings downtown as a possible site to relocate the business.
That likely won’t happen anytime soon, though, he said, because of the investment he would have to make to get a building up to code.
“Asking price is high with the amount of repair you will have to do,” he said. “You would have over $200,000 in a building before you could open the doors. No place downtown is worth that.”
But Lakins said those who own the buildings will lose too much money if they sell them cheap or if they fix them up first and then sell them.
“That is why they are sitting empty and keep rotting from the inside,” he said.
The city has a downtown review board in place established in 2011 to ensure orderly growth, protect property values, attract new residents, ensure the viability of downtown and enhance tourism. That board, however, has met just once since last September.
Besides the city and downtown review board, there’s also Seymour Main Street, a nonprofit organization dedicated to attracting commercial business into the historic downtown, beautifying the area and providing the community with downtown events.
Seymour Main Street recently spent $40,000 to purchase new downtown street signs.
Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce, located in downtown Seymour, also is available to help, promote and attract businesses to the city.
Steven Deweese of Seymour said he thinks the city needs to invest more financially to help the downtown in the form of tax abatements for building owners who improve their properties, even if that means increased taxes to pay for the program.
“I would be all for a local tax that went toward the upkeep and maintenance of our downtown,” he said.
Luedeman said the city has helped Seymour Main Street in the past but can’t just write a check to pay an owner to fix up a building.
“But Seymour Main Street may be able to help them with the programs they have,” he said.
Not everything downtown is bad though. There are several businesses that continue to thrive in their downtown locations.
Eric Diblasi Jr. of Seymour said he tries to shop local and frequents businesses like Java Joint, 13th Floor Music, Summit Cleaners, Bullwinkles Family Restaurant and Tiemeier’s Jewelry.
“Downtown Seymour has some great new businesses open in the past year and the new Main Street road signs look great,” he said.
He agrees the biggest problem is the condition of vacant buildings.
“A lot of them are for sale or lease but have zero curb appeal and detract from the improvements that have already been made downtown,” he said.
Angie Eckstein of Seymour agreed more needs to be done to make the downtown inviting to people, things like cleaner and safer alleys that are more conducive to people walking through them, more outdoor seating, murals and other art.
Luedeman said he hopes to see some more buildings sold and improvements being made in the near future.
“The downtown is hugely important to Seymour,” he said. “It’s the heart of the community. Everything revolves around the downtown.”