Public helps in CreatINg Places

April 5th, 2019

By Lisa Green | The Journal Gazette

Miles and Tarah Wilson found deep-pocket support when they started the Churubusco Youth Foundation more than three years ago to give the community a playground any child could enjoy.

The AWS Foundation in Fort Wayne chipped in $25,000 and the Whitley County Community Foundation committed $30,000. Another boost – $75,000 – came from the Dekko Foundation in Kendallville.

But there were plenty of smaller donors, too. Nearly 100 people responded to an online campaign through the state's CreatINg Places program. Collectively, they contributed almost $28,100, surpassing a $25,000 goal on the website.

That qualified the project for $25,000 – one of dozens of matching grants doled out under the program offered through the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority.

“We had our $25,000 in eight days,” Miles Wilson said last week. “Getting a match, I didn't think was going to be a problem.”

Since mid-February, the state announced that two other northeast Indiana projects will use the CreatINg Places crowdfunding approach.

Nonprofit groups and local governments can apply for help with projects costing at least $10,000. The state provides matching grants up to $50,000.

Statewide, projects through mid-March had raised $1.98 million in crowdfunding and $1.693 million in matching state funds. A project in Wabash to create a Riverfront Plaza was the first the state announced. And the Mandala Murals Project in the North Anthony Corridor in Fort Wayne also received CreatINg Places funding less than a year ago.

Oscar's Playland

The new playground in Churubusco, accessible to youths with disabilities, is expected to be dedicated this spring, Wilson said. Construction began in the fall, but the final pavement and a fence have to be installed.

The total project cost will be about $250,000, Wilson said. He and his wife, who are parents, got involved because they wanted to help fund a nicer children's play area. The town's previous playground was 30 years old and described in the crowdfunding campaign as unsafe.

The Wilsons rallied significant support for Oscar's Playland, named after the town's turtle statue, before qualifying for the CreatINg Places fundraiser. But, Wilson said, “$25,000 is $25,000.”

Patronicity provided another platform to increase interest.

“They did the video with us explaining what we were doing, so it was a nice tool for us to use,” Wilson said.

An alley and a plaza

The Warsaw area will benefit at least twice from CreatINg Places funding.

In 2017, Warsaw had nearly 145 donors contribute about $58,800 through Patronicity for a project to convert an alley into a social space. The goal was $50,000.

The project was designed to connect an alley off Buffalo Street with the City Hall plaza. For about six months each year, residents can grab a cup of coffee from a nearby shop, access Wi-Fi and enjoy artwork in the Warsaw Alley.

“It takes an otherwise dreary space downtown and creates a nice space for folks to sit and relax,” Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer said.

This spring, Thallemer said Kosciusko County expects to break ground on a Courthouse Plaza in Warsaw. It would beautify a heavy-traffic lawn area with landscaping and add stamped concrete or pavers along with picnic table seating. More than 50 donors last year contributed to reach the $30,000 online fundraising goal.

The grass on the open lawn area doesn't hold up well to heavy use and maintenance was getting expensive, the county said in its pitch for funding. Closing the lawn had been discussed, but officials didn't “want to keep people from using such an important public space,” preferring to make it more usable.

Thallemer said the state is promoting “trying to improve quality of life in rural communities, looking for us to take places that are somewhat underutilized where people can gather and refresh.”

City and county officials were interested in such projects before CreatINg Places, he said, but would have had to seek outside funding.

Meeting on Madison

Decatur officials were planning for a Madison Street Plaza when Mayor Ken Meyer learned about CreatINg Places.

They envisioned a one-block plaza with pavers, small trees and benches where people could hang out. In about 45 days in 2017, $70,339 was raised from 170 patrons, exceeding a $50,000 goal.

Meyer thinks people like the idea of matching money.

“When people realize that their $100 is going to be $200, they tend to give a little easier,” he said.

The upgraded plaza is where people gather for festivals and the city's free Thursday night concert series. The concerts started off with regional talent but will also host groups from Cleveland and from Nashville, Tennessee, this year.

Local nonprofits, trying to raise money, sell tenderloin and pulled pork sandwiches, lemon shakeups, popcorn and more during events.

“It really is the place to be on Thursday nights,” said Melissa Norby, Decatur's director of community development. “We hoped that it would happen, but I'm not sure we thought it would be this popular.”

Decatur's population is about 9,500. “By fire marshal rules,” Meyer said, the plaza has a capacity of 999. “But I hope the fire marshal never shows up.”

Norby points out “that's a large percentage of our population coming out on Thursday nights. It's wonderful people are taking ownership and making it a destination.”

Of course, that's not the only gathering spot in Decatur. Local officials and residents are in the midst of a campaign to raise $1 million from the public to help improve Hanna Nuttmann Park.

“The fields are old. They're in dire need of attention. The parking situation is terrible ... and we need it to be much safer and much nicer for all the facilities, including concessions and the restrooms and all of that,” Meyer said.

If the timing works out, and the state still has funding through CreatINg Places, Meyer said it's possible another crowdfunding initiative through Patronicity is on its way.