Alley revitalization plan presented to Warsaw City Council

June 27th, 2016

News Coverage:

June 26, 2016

Alley revitalization plan presented to Warsaw City Council

David Slone |Times-Union

A plan to revitalize the east-west alley directly south of the Warsaw City Hall was presented to the Common Council Monday night.

The plan was presented by City Planner Jeremy Skinner and David Gustafson, of Urban Retrend LLC, the property owner of 114 S. Buffalo St.

Mayor Joe Thallemer told the council there would be no action last night, but it was just looking at the proposal. Warsaw Community Development Corp. does have alley revitalization as well as facade grants available, he said. The plan grew out of the Ball State charet the city did several years ago, and it “took on a life of its own,” he reminded the council.

Skinner said, “We’ve talked to you a little bit about looking at opportunities within our community for some improvements. One of those areas we’ve talked about is looking at our downtown in trying to make improvements that will increase the businesses that we have downtown, increase the number of people that are downtown, that will increase that atmosphere, that draw. We’ve talked about it in our comprehensive plan. We’ve talked about it in our strategic plan.”

One way to improve the downtown is to look at underutilized spaces that can be improved, he said, such as alleys. “The idea is to create those spaces that people want to participate in or come to,” he said.

In his short presentation, Gustafson said alleyways are often a spot to look to in urban redevelopment where there is underutilized space. He said his company runs two establishments – Oak & Alley and Three Crowns Coffee – and his goal of this project would be to close the alleyway, at least seasonally, to prevent vehicle traffic from entering, and create a pedestrian way. The space could be used for not only outdoor seating, creating a café culture, but also community events like art fairs, live music, street food festivals and outdoor film festivals. He said he’s been talking to Lakeland Art Association about outdoor art installations as well.

His three specific goals would be to create a pedestrian way for community events, provide a downtown destination with outdoor seating and accomplish the greening of an urban space downtown Warsaw with planters and vertical gardens.

Gustafson then showed the council some renderings of the alley as designed by Loren Deeg, BSU, and Kellie Altruda, Malcom Associates Inc.

Specifically, he said they would want to create an encroachment agreement for the use of the alleyway by neighboring businesses. It would not vacate the alley, at least initially, and the city would still own it. He said it would be a good idea to create an urban culture committee comprised of several business leaders to oversee how the space would be used. The alley would also be used as a pilot project for other organizations and businesses to look to create similar proposals.

Since Indiana has a harsh winter at time, Gustafson said the seating and planting all would be designed to be moved prior to snow fall.  
Service, utility and public safety vehicles would still have access to the alley. Urban Retrend would be committed to cleaning and maintaining the alley. Gustafson said there were several inexpensive ways to assure the safety of pedestrians.

He mentioned other cities that have similar projects, like Goshen and Columbia City, and how they can help retain workers in Warsaw. 

Councilwoman Diane Quance asked if they had thought about surveying the downtown residents. Gustafson said he rents two apartments right above the alley, so if there were events in the alley it wouldn’t be like the concerts in the park, but more acoustic music. Skinner said they would be more event based so live music wouldn’t be every day, and there wouldn’t be a large volume of people creating a lot of noise. He said this was an opportunity to utilize space the city has  that is being underused.

Quance asked if guidelines would be created for future alley proposals as they went through the process with this one, and Skinner said they would. He said this one was a really easy one to start with because of its configuration, location and the farmer’s market is already held nearby Saturday mornings.

Councilwoman Cindy Dobbins said her concern was that the city did have other businesses that might be interested in something like this, and the city can’t close all the alleys all the time. She said she wanted to a plan for such requests.

“I’m also concerned about noise. We already have one noise issue every Friday and Saturday night downtown that we’ve not been able to get under control so that concerns me because I have a concert in my apartment every Friday and Saturday night,” Dobbins said.

Skinner said it wouldn’t be hard to look at the downtown and identify certain alleys where it would be right for such uses, and it may not be fair to everyone. 

After further discussion, Thallemer suggested the Chamber of Commerce and WCDC could get involved in the process.