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People see area full of possibilities

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If the revamped Cleo Rogers Memorial Library plaza were a book, people curiously would be sticking their nose inside to check out what’s new and different.

That’s an apt summary of the reaction of residents and arts and other leaders to the bricked, Fifth Street space that has hosted everything from literacy festivals to classic rock shows to orchestral concerts.

Heather Smith, who just moved to Columbus a few weeks ago, said she hopes to unwind and read in the space with her 1-year-old son, Christopher.

“I think there needs to be more places just to sit and relax,” Smith said.

She also said she would be interested in other gatherings such as concerts there — something that the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic leaders said they would consider.

For nearly 30 years, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra performed a free patriotic Popfest concert that drew thousands to the plaza and the whole half block of Fifth Street. The Columbus Symphony Orchestra played a renamed Pops on the Plaza event in 2009 before sponsor support withered.

Columbus’ Clint Imel said he would take time during his three-visits-per-week to the library to read or visit with friends. He occasionally took time for that before the renovation, too.

“It seems like it will be nice,” he said as crews recently finished work.

Leaders of the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic said they’re interested in considering the plaza perhaps for a summer concert — something that might be an addition to its current schedule. But all that would hinge on generating key sponsor support, according to orchestra executive director Margaret Powers.

Columbus Area Arts Council leaders said they’re “always looking for alternate performance spaces.” Currently, though, Karen Shrode, the arts council’s executive director, said her agency has adopted a wait-and-see attitude about using the plaza.

“We think it will be a great venue for bringing a crowd together,” Shrode said.

The library itself possibly could use the space slightly more, according to Mary Clare Speckner, adult programming coordinator who books presenters from musicians to professional wrestlers. The only uses currently planned are in September for a History Days event and in November for a military vehicle display.

That display will link with the Community Book Read for the Vietnam-oriented historical novel, “The Things They Carried.”

“Overall, it should now give us more options,” Speckner said. “But of course, we’ll always have to realize, ‘Hey, it might rain.’”

In the past, the library has hosted cooking demonstrations and even a presentation on dog tricks, she said.

“We’re always looking for new things,” Speckner said.

United Way of Bartholomew County President Mark Stewart said he’s currently unaware of nonprofit agencies that might use the space. But he can imagine how it could work for some public meetings and events.

“I can see that plaza being a good, neutral meeting ground for people from all walks of life,” Stewart said. “And I think that’s a really good thing. It’s a good location and a comfortable location.”

Diane Doup, community outreach coordinator for Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center, said downtown residents have told her that they would like to see more downtown events.

Doup has been a part of the organizing committee for the dedication ceremony and performance by Black Violin set for Friday. And for the sake of full disclosure, she mentioned that she is the daughter of David Doup, a leader of Taylor Brothers Construction doing the plaza renovation.

She said she will regularly take her godchild to the plaza for reading sessions. She hopes it attracts plenty other people.

“I grew up in the days would people take picnic lunches down there,” she said.

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