Ligonier RDC commits up to $480,000 for cultural trail
By Kelly Lynch | KPC News - The News Sun
The city’s proposed, and newly revised, Strawberry Valley Cultural Trail project is stepping forward for funding.
Ligonier Redevelopment Commission approved funding not to exceed $480,000 to the first phase of the project Tuesday morning to complete the city’s application for Regional Cities Initiative funding from the Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority due Feb. 8.
Originally named the Strawberry Valley Greenway, the project was estimated at a total cost of $4.65 million, but city leaders decided to break the project down into phases with the hope to better facilitate funding of the trail.
The first phase, for which the RDC committed its funding, is projected to cost $1.4 million and will build on the current Elkhart Riverwalk with the paving of paths and construction of boardwalks connecting downtown murals, statues and historical landmarks to the city’s parks. The trail will be utilized for more than just exercise and recreation as was first thought; the new layout makes it a destination for those wanting to learn the history of Ligonier as well, commissioners said.
A preliminary design of the project shows the 5-mile path as a loop through the city beginning with the existing riverwalk along the north side of the Elkhart River. It will connect to the east with Richmond Street, where both a pathway and boardwalk will be constructed. The path will then turn south onto State Road 5/Cavin Street, where it will utilize existing sidewalks and new signs to point visitors in the direction of local landmarks and sites. An asphalt path around Pettit Park is also proposed.
From there, the path will continue south down an existing alley west of Main Street after a jog on Fourth Street. This will lead people south to Sixth Street and Prescott Park. The trail will go west on Sixth Street, eventually leading into a new asphalt path, to connect to the Ligonier Sports & Recreation Center and Kenney Park’s current gravel walking path. Coming off of the northeast loop of Kenney Park’s trail, the new trail will use an existing alley to connect to Lincolnway West and lead west to Bridge Street where it will turn north on a new asphalt path to finish the loop at the existing riverwalk.
Throughout the trail, new crosswalks, signage and mile markers with the Strawberry Valley logo will help visitors find their way around the loop.
“I think it’s an excellent use of the funds. I don’t think a lot of people have any idea how it’s going to positively affect the city,” Mayor Patty Fisel said. “I think the design is going to impress them very much.”
The commission’s funding will come out of a $2.2 million bond the RDC approved in 2015 for such projects and must be used by the end of its 3-year agreement in 2018. Clerk-Treasurer Barb Hawn told commissioners that as of the meeting, there was $1.12 million still available.
The commissioners’ approval will allow the city to move forward with its grant application for Regional Cities money, for which it’s requesting $285,200.
To apply for part of the $42 million designated to the region from Indiana Economic Development Corporation, projects are required to have 60 percent of the cost provided through private contributions, 20 percent in public funding and the remaining amount would be granted from the RDA. But Triad Associates Engineer Jonathan Moen and Mayor Patty Fisel said they were assured in recent meetings with both the RDA and Noble County Economic Development Corporation that these percentages contain some flexibility.
The Strawberry Valley Cultural Trail project is currently funded with 46 percent from private donations and 34 percent from the Redevelopment Commission. In that, Noble County EDC has also committed up to 30 percent of construction costs over a 3-year period, totaling $347,843, contingent on the project receiving Regional Cities funding.
Commissioner Bryan Shearer questioned what would be done with the $480,000 if the city doesn’t receive the funding it’s requesting and can’t tackle the cultural trail project as its laid out, but Moen contended an expansion of the trails on whatever scale possible would be beneficial to the city.
“We are not talking about small dollars here, but it’s an investment to the city,” Moen said. “As a city that would like to continue to grow and have opportunity, people look at recreational uses within the city. That’s not just residential, that’s business that will look at these components whether to move into the city or not. … This is something that has a lot of benefit from many aspects.”
The deadline for Regional Cities Initiative funding applications is Wednesday, Feb. 8, and the RDA is scheduled to meet soon after on Feb. 14 to review proposals.