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Demolition project opens up opportunities in Hope

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HOPE — A nonprofit agency that provides community programs to Hope residents plans to redevelop two vacant properties on the town square and use the rental income to sustain and expand the services it offers.

The Community Center of Hope, 543 Washington St., bought the adjacent properties at 312 and 316 Jackson St., which formerly housed a pizza shop and grocery store, for $12,000 earlier this year, said Julie Begin, the community center’s executive director. Last week, the buildings were leveled to prepare the properties for new construction in the future.

“If we can do this and do it right, it can help with sustainability of the center and all of its services,” Begin said.

Day care, preschool, before- and after-school care, a food pantry, a senior center and a summer camp are programs the center offers. The center is an agency of the United Way of Bartholomew County, which helps fund its operating budget — $395,000 this year, Begin said.

Redevelopment of the two properties serves multiple purposes, said Larry Simpson, board president of the community center. The north side of the town square is considered a retail block, so the vacant properties, covering 10,000 square feet, were a blight to that area, Simpson said. Developing new commercial properties would be an economic boost to the retail block.

The idea is to construct buildings with historic-looking façades in the front, but with modern and energy-efficient interiors, Simpson said. The center’s board hopes to attract artisans to the properties. The Art Guild of Hope is just a couple doors down from the two properties on Jackson Street.

“We’d like to create a niche for Hope, Ind., on a smaller scale than Nashville,” Simpson said.

The board also would like the redevelopment to include space for community events, such as banquets, dinner theater and small concerts.

“Having entertainment and education in performance space fits into our mission to improve the quality of life (for Hope residents),” Simpson said.

If successful, the redevelopment could provide enough rental revenue to pay for a full-time assistant for Begin and to expand programming.

“Child care is a big need for the community. Expanding children’s programs is our No.1 goal,” Simpson said.

Economic Development Income Tax money from Hope and a grant from Heritage Fund: The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County helped pay for the demolition costs, and the Bartholomew County Solid Waste Management District waived its tipping fees at the county landfill, Begin said.

Cost to construct the new buildings is estimated to be between $800,000 and $1 million, Simpson said. A U.S. Department of Agriculture rural development grant will be sought to help pay for it. Fundraisers and other grants would be additional funding sources. Redevelopment could take about 18 months, Simpson said.

Despite the construction price tag, the chance to revitalize the town square, attract more tourists and support the center’s programs by buying and redeveloping the properties was an opportunity the board felt it couldn’t pass up, he said.

And the risk was low because of the purchase price and the fact the board already has been contacted about the possibility of selling the properties, Simpson said.

The Community Center purchased the two properties from Mark Stevens of Shelbyville.

Stevens purchased the properties sight unseen in a tax sale about two years ago. Stevens said he and his wife Charlene had talked about the idea of opening a banquet facility. They were familiar with Hope because she had been a substitute worker at the Hope post office.

But when Stevens got a closer look at the buildings, he realized they were in poor shape and would require more money than he could afford to renovate them. The roof of the grocery store had caved in, for example.

When the Community Center of Hope inquired about buying the properties, Stevens was ready to let them go. He likes the plans the center has for the properties.

“I think it’s a great idea, great for Hope,” he said.

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