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Kendalville RDC discusses possible new incentive programs

April 23rd, 2019

By Steve Garbacz | KPC Media - The News Sun

Can Kendallville do more to help downtown building owners fix up their properties?

It was a question tossed out by Kendallville Redevelopment Commission member and Kendallville Area of Chamber Commerce Executive Director Lynnette Leamon as the result of recent discussions she held with a group of new building owners.

There’s quite a bit of turnover happening in ownership of downtown properties recently, with one group of investors — Rooster LLC — having purchased three buildings in recent months. Redevelopment commissioners also mentioned the availability of the former Rudy’s bar and grill property, the upcoming opening of a Christian community center in the former J.C. Penney storefront and other properties possibly going up for sale soon.

While the redevelopment commission currently offers a facade grant program in which owners can get a 50/50 matching grant for exterior repairs on their building, Leamon opened a discussion about whether there might be additional possibilities.

“What type of incentives could we or would we be willing to offer?” she asked.

One idea that was floated was a low-interest loan program that could either help finance the other half of a facade match or maybe provide financing for other renovations to buildings.

The idea got an initial cool response from Kendallville Clerk-Treasurer Sheryl Hanes, who noted the Indiana State Board of Accounts isn’t a fan of governments getting into the loan business.

“I’d stay clear of loaning money because you’ve got complications there if they don’t pay it back,” Hanes said, noting the city would need to put liens on properties in order to ensure its money would be secured. “We do that and the state board is not even happy where we do the (inter-departmental) loan for the sewer lines when they have issues.”

Commission President Ray Scott also brought up an issue about whether such a program would put the city in competition with local banks.

One other potential issue is whether the redevelopment commission would have much money available to launch a new program. The RDC is committed to provide about $500,000 toward a downtown streetscape project — if the city finally gets a $600,000 grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs on now its sixth attempt — which would tap out much of its available funds.

Leamon said she will reach out to some other communities to explore what kind of incentive programs they might have and how they are utilized.

“We can do some research and find out what they’re offering. ... I can reach out to other chambers in the area too and see what they do,” Leamon said. “We’re transitioning and people are realizing how much empty space we have.”

In related business, the commission talked about several downtown topics, including putting up a new billboard to promote the downtown, the upcoming return of the downtown parklet with some improvements and new festivals planned for summer.

The board discussed options for a billboard on the city’s east side near Brian’s Place. Leamon presented some possible options for a photo featuring people in the downtown using the parklet with a tagline of “We’re changing.”

“I certainly like the switch to ‘We’re changing’ as opposed to ‘We’ve changed,’” board member Brad Graden said in discussing the wording options. “I think we can stick with ‘We’re changing,’ because it’s always ongoing.”

Leamon also presented a conceptual sketch of updates to the parklet. Last year the city debuted its first parklet, a small feature that takes up two parking spaces, in front of the chamber office. The parklet was purchased by the Kendallville Rotary Club and fabricated by a local manufacturer.

In its first season, the parklet was partially complete. An awning that was supposed to provide shade was never completed and installed. Also, the chamber received feedback that the black, boxy parklet looked like a roll-away dumpster parked in the downtown.

City officials discussed the possibility of a decorative wrap for the parklet, but that, too, never materialized last year. According to Leamon, it will happen this year, as she provided the concept of a blue wrap with several words inviting people to relax and enjoy the downtown.

The awning also should be ready this year, Leamon said, when the parklet is re-assembled at the chamber.

Lastly, Leamon reported that preparations for Kendallville’s first “Fairy Festival” on May 18 are advancing smoothly. The group organizing the event, which builds off a project from last summer in which businesses hosted small decorative fairy, troll and gnome doors on their properties, has enough vendors to fill two downtown blocks.

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