Study suggests Market St. upgrades in downtown Wabash

May 23rd, 2018

By Joseph Slacian | The Paper of Wabash County

A study from a group of Manchester University students suggests major changes to Market Street, east of Huntington Street, in downtown Wabash.

The students of Dr. Leonard Williams spent the last semester creating a policy analysis through collaboration with the university, the City of Wabash and Grow Wabash County.

The students interviewed residents, entrepreneurs, public officials and non-profit leaders about the needs, possibilities and challenges of redeveloping Market Street. They also collected and reviewed relevant housing and economic data.

The students presented their findings to the Wabash City Council on Monday, May 14.

The students suggest refurbishing the former Kaiser Hotel (which was renamed the New Wabash Hotel during World War I), the large, brick structure on the north side of Market Street, east of the Wabash County Historical Museum.

During the refurbishing, the class suggests, turning the structure into a quadplex, or  housing for four families. They also suggest razing the homes to the east, replacing them with a row of townhouses.

The students said they consulted with Indiana Landmarks officials who were optimistic that the refurbishing could take place.

Most of the work on the outside, they noted, was brick and mortar. However, they admitted, they were unable to see the inside of the building to determine how much work was needed in there.

Refurbishing the old hotel, the students estimate, could cost at least $1.2 million, while demolishing the existing homes could cost upward of $250,000.

Overall, they estimate the project, which includes extending the StreetScape work down the length of the block, could cost between $5 million and $6 million.

Council members thanked the students for their efforts.

Mayor Scott Long later told The Paper of Wabash County that he believes the study “gives us another perspective from the eyes of several young adults who aren’t a part of our community. My intent in participating with this class was to partner with a local university to gain additional insight into our community.”

However, it remains to be seen if the city will incorporate any of the suggestions made through the study.

“We currently have a housing committee established that has been looking at what Wabash needs in terms of housing,” Long said. “We are working with HPG (the High Performance Government Network) in Fort Wayne to complete the housing study for the city as well as updating our zoning ordinance and updating the city comprehensive plan.

“Once our housing study is complete, our committee can examine all aspects of that study, as well as this presentation, and see potential developers who may be interested in investing in this or other potential projects.”

Asked if the city could afford to undertake such a venture, Long said “I believe we would be able to assist a developer in constructing housing in this area, not necessarily footing the cost of the project.”

Like the mayor, Keith Gillenwater, President and CEO of Grow Wabash County, praised the students for their efforts.

“I really liked that they spent time in the community and interviewing stakeholders to get their input as well,” he said.

As for the study’s findings, he said, “I think their recommendations for some sort of improved single family housing there, such as suggested attached single-family housing like row houses are intriguing. As for the historic hotel, I think it would certainly be worth looking into the property to see if it could be renovated and make an accurate cost determination before a decision would be made cost effective or viable.”

Both said they were interested in working with similar classes in the future.

“I was very impressed overall and look forward to working with future classes,” Gillenwater said. “This was a great step forward for the city and the university to work together on a project and I hope and expect we will see more of that in the future.”

Long said he believes there are “opportunities to engage Manchester University, Purdue University and other higher education facilities to assist the city in projects such as traffic studies, housing and other redevelopment projects or ideas which would be mutually beneficial.

“I look forward to exploring other opportunities with universities to propel the city into the future.”