Tourism grant paves a path to Columbus area destination neighborhoods

From the artists’ haven of Greenwich Village to the financial district of Wall Street, New York City is famous for its unique destination neighborhoods.

An effort is underway to allow the Columbus area to also develop and market neighborhoods with their own individual characters and attributes, Columbus Area Visitors Center executive director Karen Niverson said.

Her organization has received an $85,287 matching grant from the Indiana Office of Tourism Development. Money invested into what’s being called the Destination Neighborhoods Project pilot program will assist four Bartholomew County neighborhoods in developing their own unique brand, Niverson said.

She said the four neighborhoods were selected because each has stakeholders already convening to discuss related topics such as improvements and development:

Downtown Columbus arts district

Educational and commercial amenities in the Columbus Municipal Airport area

Shopping and dining opportunities in the Edinburgh-Taylorsville area

State Street, where new aesthetics are being developed

“We felt it would be great to coordinate all of those efforts, so we have unique identities to create consistency in advancing the concept of intentional design,” the Visitors Center director said.

Up to a dozen people with connections to the downtown arts and entertainment district have already been meeting, district spokeswoman Sherry Stark said.

“We’ve been talking for some time to identify a way to capture what that district is, where it is, and what do we call it,” Stark said. “We are really pleased the Visitors Center is taking a lead on this.

The award was one of only two grants announced this month by the state tourism office. The Indiana Military Museum in Vincennes was provided $250,000 for an expansion.

A key goal of the program is to advance the city’s reputation for design excellence beyond architecture to include graphic and urban design. Examples include distinctive designs for gateways, public benches, bus stops, street decorations and park areas.

Examples are within an hour’s drive away in Indianapolis, which boasts Fountain Square and the five-block long Massachusetts Avenue Arts District.

Matching funds for the Bartholomew County grant are being provided by the Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, the Columbus Arts District, the City of Columbus and the Visitors Center, Niverson said.

A global firm based in Australia with an office in Chicago has been hired as the designing company, Niverson said.

Thirst, a communication design practice located in Chicago, is working with the Columbus Area Visitor’s Center on the Destination Neighborhoods Project. Thirst specializes in what’s called user experience design, which means enhancing user satisfaction by improving the usability, accessibility and pleasure derived from a product, the company’s website states.

The Destination Neighborhoods Project will benefit the community at three different levels, Niverson said.

By building and promoting each area’s unique character, new marketing opportunities will be created to boost the local tourism industry, the Visitors Center director said.

This process should also improve quality of life by creating a sense of place for local residents and instilling a sense of pride in their neighborhoods, Niverson said.

By encouraging local businesses to join the effort to create distinct and vibrant environments, economic and workforce development efforts will be boosted by attracting young professionals, she said.

Branding of amenities on the city’s far north side will feature sports complexes and attractions such as the Atterbury-Bakalar Air Museum, as well as educational facilities such as IUPUC and Ivy Tech Community College, Columbus Municipal Airport director Brian Payne said.

The creation of a distinct visual stamp may also be beneficial in attracting retail and commercial development to the airport, Payne said.

It was the program’s potential to create strong and vibrant neighborhoods and welcoming environments to work, live and play that prompted the Heritage Fund to decide last year to support the effort, grants manager Abbie Bush said.

With the funds secured, the first of a three-step process is underway.

Thirst representatives are holding early conversations with neighborhood stakeholders regarding their visions and aspirations, Niverson said.

She said she is hopeful an image and visual identity for each area will be developed by late summer.

Once that’s done, Thirst designers will begin working with urban planners and local fabricators to establish a set of design elements, Niverson said.

The final step will be to install those elements, including signage, or activate programming that can eventually be marketed, she said.

Other neighborhoods may be brought aboard for participation in the near future, Niverson said.

About the grant

Three goals for the $85,287 matching grant for the Destination Neighborhoods Project pilot program were outlined by Columbus Area Visitors Center executive director Karen Niverson.

  • Enhance and connect a series of vibrant neighborhoods throughout Bartholomew County to complement the community’s renowned architecture and elevate the destination’s profile.
  • Carry the distinct and timeless nature of the city’s landmark buildings into neighborhoods and throughout the community.
  • Advance Columbus’ reputation for design excellence beyond architecture to graphic and urban design.

The grant from the Indiana Office of Tourism Development is being matched through funding supplied by the Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, the Columbus Arts District, the City of Columbus and the Visitors Center.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5636.