Ligonier working to become a Main Street Community

April 23rd, 2019

By Kayla Brennan | KPC Media - The News Sun

The main drag downtown is called Cavin Street, but Ligonier wants to do more to turn it into a true main street.

Throughout the past few months, at different government meetings, city officials have been trying to address the issues with Ligonier’s downtown.

Some of the storefronts on Cavin Street have newspapers, pieces of cardboard, curtains and other objects covering the windows so people cannot see from the outside. While no one is completely certain why the windows are covered, people have their guesses.

City officials, The Noble County Convention & Visitors Bureau and Future Ligonier Alliance all came together to meet with Andrea Kern of the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs to try to revitalize downtown Ligonier.

“I met with Sheryl Prentice (executive director) of Noble County CVB and several others,” Ligonier Mayor Patty Fisel said. “Sheryl would like to help Ligonier establish a Main Street Status.”

According to the OCRA website, the Indiana Main Street Program is a nationally-recognized program committed to encouraging economic development, redevelopment and improvement of downtown areas in Indiana cities and towns. Fisel hopes this will help solve the issues with the vacant businesses downtown.

Fisel and Prentice said Ligonier was considered a Main Street Community in the past, but the city’s designation went dormant. Prentice wants to help with that. OCRA is not taking Main Street applications this year though, so this may not happen until 2020.

“The Future Ligonier Alliance was formed when they had it the first time, but then it kind of went dormant because some of the members got to an age where they weren’t able to help with it anymore,” Prentice said. “There are now some younger people who are interested in rebooting that, but the designation might not come until 2020.”

In order for the city to become a Main Street Community, FLA would have to become more active and look at their main street, Cavin Street, and see what they can accomplish, according to Prentice.

The program has four parts that will be split into committees: design, organization, promotion and economic development. FLA will need to look at projects in each of those areas to see what might fit Ligonier.

“FLA would serve as the organizational structure for it and help organize those committees and help to identify projects,” Prentice said. “You will also need people who are interested in promoting things. It would be things like events or publicity or working with the downtown businesses to help them be included in a project like that.”

Ligonier’s eastern neighbor, Kendallville, is a Main Street Community. Its downtown organization, Experience the Heart of Kendallville, recently merged with the downtown business owners association and has focused on hosting new events and drawing more attention downtown.

Prentice is hoping to put the work in this year to help Ligonier get the Main Street designation next year.

FLA President Zachary Becker is willing to do what he can to help the city.

“The steps we are taking right now are just doing more meetings with the FLA members and seeing what our role should be in this,” Becker said. “But our mission essentially it to improve the life of the downtown and its surrounding areas.”

He is interested in getting in contact with groups similar to his throughout the county and doing a roundtable discussion on the ways they have helped their downtowns so he can get an idea of how to help Ligonier.

Becker is hopeful that this designation could help reduce or eliminate the covered windows in the storefronts downtown. He also believes that the new housing that is being added to Ligonier could be helpful as well to bring more businesses to downtown.

“We’re hoping it will help,” Becker said. “If we were to receive this, I think it would open a ton of doors for the growth of our downtown that we really haven’t seen in a while. The biggest struggle I think we are having right now is finding the people who own the vacant buildings.”

He would like to professionally approach the owners and ask them what they use it for now and try to figure out a way to make it better. Becker also wants to bring businesses into the downtown.

Fisel is hopeful that this project could work to make the downtown look better.

“If this is successful, I think this is how we can address the windows with a little bit more credibility,” Fisel said. “I’m hoping that this goes forward, and I am hoping that people will step forward to volunteer to make that work. We are kind of short on volunteers anymore.”

Once the city can get volunteers, she thinks they can work with FLA, since it is a nonprofit organization, to get the application moving for 2020.

“I think that as a county, we are trying to work together as a county,” Fisel said. “I think it is admirable that Sheryl has stepped out and offered her help.”