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Jennings Sunday: Plan B for city Stellar agenda


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NORTH VERNON — Two elements have been dropped from a community improvement project that would have provided North Vernon with a community center and additional housing.

Negotiations to buy an old railroad depot and a former manufacturing complex failed, so city officials are moving forward with other aspects of the $11.3 million Stellar Communities program.

The program is a multi-agency partnership designed to fund comprehensive community development projects in Indiana’s smaller communities. The program embodies collaborative government partnerships and leverages state and federal funding from multiple agencies to undertake large-scale projects.

 

When North Vernon was picked as a Stellar Community in 2011, the mayor and City Council were asked to compile a list of proposed improvement projects for approval and funding.

One of their wishes was to acquire the B&O Railroad Depot on Walnut Street, now owned by CSX Transportation. Built in 1893, the depot had been used only as a storage area by CSX for many years. The plan was to renovate the depot to create a downtown events and community center.

Another wish was to buy the old Arvin manufacturing complex that has sat deserted for more than 15 years and is considered by some residents to be an eyesore and an environmental problem. Plans to improve the Arvin site included the construction of new housing units.

“We did everything we could to work with CSX to get that depot, but we couldn’t budge them. We even offered to occupy and restore the building but let them maintain ownership, but nothing worked. It’s time to move on,” North Vernon Mayor Harold “Soup” Campbell said.

“And we just could not come to an agreement on price for the old Arvin building, and it’s time to put that project on the back burner. If something breaks, we will consider reopening negotiations on that one, but now it’s time to proceed with other projects.”

Good faith efforts were made to secure the properties by the mayor and City Council, said Kathy Ertel, director of the Jennings County Economic Development Commission and a member of the Stellar Community Committee.

“The mayor and City Council tried everything, but it just didn’t work. Now we must find projects that meet the Stellar program’s criteria and continue to move forward,” she said.

Two replacement projects have been submitted for approval by the Stellar program. One would landscape and beautify the parking areas on Main Street across from the police station. The second would beautify the three-block stretch of Walnut Street extending from the intersection of Walnut and U.S. 50 through the next stop light, near the Carnegie Building.

“The Main Street project and the Walnut Street project will do a great deal to beautify our city. There will not be any major reconstruction, but we will spruce up both areas and it will give our town a whole new look,” Campbell said.

The mayor said he hopes work on the two new projects will begin within the next few weeks and be completed by

October.

The Walnut street project was not in the original Stellar plan because the route of the new U.S. 50 bypass was not official when the list of Stellar projects was agreed upon, the mayor said.

“When we submitted our list of original projects to the Stellar program, we also had a backup list of additional projects in case something went wrong with the original projects. So, we are good,” Campbell said.

Ertel said the Stellar program is a pilot program, and everybody is learning as they go forward in projects. But she said progress has been made.

“Much work on Irish Hill has been completed. The Fifth Street project is also moving along beautifully,” Ertel said. “We are within our goals and ideals.”

Restoration of the old Carnegie Library was one of the first completed Stellar projects and received high-praise from then-Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman.

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