A project to convert a vacant lot in downtown Seymour into a green space for concerts, festivals and other community-wide events was launched Monday morning.

Mayor Craig Luedeman said it took a lot of hard work and about eight years from conception to the groundbreaking ceremony for the $3.5 million park in the 100 block of East Tipton Street.

Actual construction won’t begin for another couple of weeks. The park, which will feature a covered pavilion and stage with an event lawn, restrooms, a walking trail, public parking and landscaping, will be finished sometime in late May.

Luedeman said the project is the result of a shared vision for an improved downtown and has included involvement from many people.

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“GM Development came in from one side, different than the city of Seymour could, and then they put a program together where will they will build it and then lease it back to us for what they paid for it,” he said. “It’s a great deal.”

The lot, owned by Dick Elmore of Seymour, has been empty for many years. It has been used for parking during the Seymour Oktoberfest and has sometimes served as a staging area for railroad improvement work.

Luedeman said the site has always been his choice for a new city park.

“This site has sat vacant for a number of years,” he said. “Nothing’s been improved on it. Nothing’s been going on with it. There’s 38,000 cars that go up and down on U.S. 50 (Tipton Street) every day. Let’s make something happen that’s welcoming people into our downtown and really make it eye catching.”

Because the park will be bordered on the west by the Louisville & Indiana Railroad line, on the north by the CSX Transportation line and on the east by a rail line that connects the two, it has been the subject of some criticism during the planning stages.

Luedeman said the city can’t stop growing and changing because of the train tracks. Seymour was established because of the trains, he added.

“That’s part of our heritage,” he said.

The project is being funded through tax increment financing revenue and not residential property taxes. The price tag includes the purchase of the 3-acre property.

That source of funding is generated by the city capturing a portion of property taxes from new development within the TIF district for a designated amount of time. The money is controlled by the city’s redevelopment commission.

Councilman Matt Nicholson said he was as critical as anyone else about the park’s location at first.

“The more people I talked to and the more I thought about it, we deal with trains in Seymour every day,” he said.

The park is not meant to be a playground and instead will serve as a gathering place, he said.

“I think it will be good for us,” he said.

Nicholson said he thinks the park is a good step toward the future.

“We have to change and move forward,” he said. “This is definitely change.”

Councilman Jim Rebber said he has supported the idea of the park since Luedeman first started talking about it because the area has generally been ignored over the years.

“Coming into town, you hit this area, and it has nothing but signs,” he said.

The billboards Rebber referred to will be removed as part of the project, former city Councilman Mike Jordan said.

Jordan, who is now president of the Seymour Redevelopment Commission, said like Luedemen and Rebber, he is glad to see the project come to fruition.

“This is the obvious location for it,” he said.

The site is the gateway to the city, and the new park will make an impression to those traveling through the area, he said.

Jeff Schroeder with VISION Construction Group LLC of Fishers said motorists traveling through the area can expect to see demolition begin within a couple of weeks.

“The earthwork and all the underground utilities can pretty much happen regardless of the weather,” he said.

Concrete work for the pavilion where concerts will be conducted is dependent upon the weather this fall and winter, he said.

Luedeman said there are not any plans in place for the first event to be in the park.

“Nothing concrete yet,” he said. “We’re still working on that. I have some big ideas we’re trying to pull off to make it happen.”

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Aubrey Woods is editor of The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at awoods@tribtown.com or 812-523-7051.