This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Downtown revitalization

There was a public open house to view proposed plans for downtown revitalization on Tuesday afternoon. The planning was largely financed with an OCRA grant that the City obtained. It is hoped that this planning grant would lead to a  much larger construction grant, and if it does not, it is unlikely that these plans will be realized.

The presentation did not begin until 5:00 and until then people enjoyed the appetizers and got a chance to examine the drawings that were on display. On the picture below you can see planters along the streets that are proposed in the plan. The alley behind Embers would be part of a bike path/trail that would come over the pedestrian bridge, go through the alley, and then use part of the sidewalk to continue on to Aydas. Most of the downtown sidewalks would be divided into two parts, one for walking and another that merchants could use for sidewalk sales or seating in the case of restaurants. The division would be indicated by different paving.

The alley that once hosted Art in the Alley would be revitalized so it could be used as a public space in the future. (Click on the pictures to see an enlarged view.)
 A lot of the big changes would involve County property. The architect proposed sheltered parking in the County parking lot that could be used by the farmers market. Halleck Park would be redesigned, perhaps with a fountain. The site of the former Johnny Rusk building would become a pocket park with some kind of water feature. (I hope that at least one of the fountains or water features survives if funding is found for this project. Downtown needs one.)
 One of the presenters (there were three) noted that Rensselaer has an unusually large Court House square, measuring 325 feet by 315 feet. The plan suggested landscaping close to the Court House, a permanent stage where the Little Cousin Jasper Festival puts up its stage, some oval planters on the two sides that do not have brick streets, and a cutout on the Washington Street/Van Rensselaer Street corner. This could be used for the Santa House during December and for benches the rest of the year.
 Wayfaring signs are a big deal for some people. Below are four proposed designs. The first two are inspired by the Court House and the last by the pedestrian bridge.
 The presenters emphasized that the project would not just make the downtown prettier, but would lead to economic development for both Rensselaer and the area. Companies want to be located in places that are inviting to live in and a distinctive and attractive downtown makes a community a more appealing.

Below is the timeline for this part of the project.
 A final tidbit from the meeting. The public parking lots, the private parking lots, and the street parking provide almost 1000 parking spaces downtown.

The presentation lasted until about 6:30. Half an hour later the Jasper County Council met for its monthly meeting. It had a couple of interesting items. The first was from NIPSCO, a Resolution for Series 1994C Bonds, Second Amendment to Financing Agreement. NIPSCO would like to change from a corporation to an LLC because the recently passed tax reform makes it advantageous for them to make the switch. In order to do that, they have to cross the Ts and dot the Is, and one of those little details is to have Jasper County approve a change in the Bond agreement for bonds issued in 1994, of which about $4 million are still held. Its all legal stuff, but the interesting bit is that a large corporation wants to change its form. People respond to incentives, one of the fundamental pillars of economics.

The other interesting bit was from Kendall Culp. He said that in the Commissioners'  executive session earlier this month, they decided to chose Honeywell for most of an energy savings project that will cost about $2 million, and Trane for the Community Corrections of the project. The Commissioners would prefer not to finance these projects with a bond issue because the fixed costs of issuing bonds becomes a significant part of the revenue when the issue is small in size. The Council moved some money around to help finance some of the project, but how the entire project will be funded has not yet been determined. The age and state of repair of some of the boilers was an important factor agreeing to this project. Modern boilers are smaller and more efficient than older boilers were, but they also have short lives.

One of the City employees at the downtown revitalization open house told me that he had heard that the tank cars from the derailment would be cut up and scrapped. The derailment is a very costly event for the railroad.

On Saturday I judged cakes for the Cub Scouts. Below are a few of them. The Leaning Tower of Pisa Cake won for tallest.
I had not realized that cake decorating was a Cub Scout activity.

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