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Interest in downtown Kendallville area on the rise

January 17th, 2017

By Barry Rochford | KPC News - News Sun

Kendalville-

The downtown area is Kendallville’s “heart,” and these days it seems to be pumping stronger.

New businesses have opened, events have increased and work is ongoing to make Main Street even more inviting, with new sidewalks, curbs and lights.

There’s heightened interest in vacant spaces downtown, including the upper-story apartments found inside the historic buildings that line Main Street.

“I think they’re encouraged by what they’re seeing,” said Lynnette Leamon, executive director of the Kendallville Area Chamber of Commerce, of those who have signaled their interest in the downtown.

That includes businesses like Blue Heron Ice Cream Bar, which opened last year; Grace Emporium Vintage/Resale Shop moving from Avilla to Kendallville’s downtown in November; and the expected launch of a new restaurant by Jared Ballou, owner of the Pumpkinvine Cafe in Shipshewana.

Leamon is a member of a group formed in the wake of the city earning Indiana Main Street status in 2015, called Experience the Heart of Kendallville. It includes representatives from downtown businesses, business organizations and city government. On Thursday, Leamon was voted its president for 2017.

Last year, Experience the Heart of Kendallville increased the number of events taking place downtown, adding the Sip, Sample, Shop! chocolate walk and two opportunities to browse local businesses with its Discover Kendallville’s Hidden Treasures promotions.

“It made us a destination. That’s a key focus of our events and activities,” Leamon said.

This year’s Sip, Sample, Shop! walk, during which people visit participating businesses and sample different chocolate, wine and beer offerings, will be held from 6:30-9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10. Businesses offering deals during the walk will carry those over to the next day.

Other events slated for 2017 include the annual spring cleanup in May; the return of Farmers Market and Trunk Treasures in June; Discover Kendallville’s Hidden Treasures in June; the annual downtown car show and cruise-in in July; Main Street Village in October; the Trick-or-Treat on Main parade and zombie walk in October; Shop Small Saturday in November; and the annual Christmas parade and horse-drawn wagon rides in December.

In addition, 20 wheelbarrows will be painted by artists, festooned with flowers and plants and placed around the downtown this summer, followed by an event during which the wheelbarrows will be auctioned off.

“We have a good mix of things throughout the entire year,” Leamon said.

There are other things working in the downtown’s favor. For instance, fundraising continues for a project to expand the Kendallville Outdoor Recreation Complex, which includes adding four youth-sized ball fields.

If that comes to fruition, it will mean “even more teams for larger tournaments” that will bring people to Kendallville, who will need things to do when their kids aren’t playing, Leamon said.

And while it might seem distant, ongoing development in Fort Wayne has the potential to benefit Kendallville’s downtown.

“The spillover of the development that’s going to happen in Fort Wayne is going to come this way,” Leamon said.

But city leaders are hoping a proposed streetscape project will pay more immediate dividends. Kendallville later this year will apply for a $500,000 grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs to improve sidewalks, curbs and lighting downtown.

The city’s Redevelopment Commission has pledged $200,000 in existing funds and another $300,000 that would come from a low-interest loan to the streetscape project’s $1 million overall cost. A public hearing on the city’s OCRA grant application will be held Tuesday, Feb. 7.

All these things, when taken together, indicate Kendallville’s “heart” is beating louder than ever.

“My hope is we gather momentum in getting people interested in our downtown,” Leamon said.

Get involved

Experience the Heart of Kendallville has committees focused on design, economic development and promotion. Those interested in serving on one of the committees can contact Lynnette Leamon at 347-1554 or lleamon@kendallvillechamber.com.