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Greencastle in finals for Stellar Communities grant

State funding opportunity offers cities chance to improve community environment; city is one of 12 remaining competitors

By Macy Ayers
On December 7, 2010

With the help of a statewide grant, the Greencastle and DePauw communities could receive an environmental makeover over the next several years.The city of Greencastle is one of 12 finalists for the Stellar Communities grant, a program offering communities the chance to apply for money to improve the community environment.

Only cities with a population of 50,000 or fewer were welcome to apply, and somewhere between 46-48 cities submitted initial applications.

Greencastle Mayor Sue Murray is spearheading the project, working in collaboration with both members of the Greencastle and DePauw community, including Kite Advisory, a real estate advisory firm assisting with real estate planning, and an architectural historian. Over the next few months, Murray will work with various grant officials to prepare additional aspects of the application.

Two communities will receive the grant money March 1.

Murray has yet to find out the amount of money provided by the grant. Funding will come from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, the Indiana Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. No data about the funds Greencastle would be required to put forth is available at this time. According to President Brian Casey, Greencastle applied for a $27 million grant.

Because the grant is in its first year, the application process "did not come with a finely designated roadmap," Murray said.

She also noted this grant is, "very different from most state grants. Most we've had are very cumbersome, required many steps, and were teeming with bureaucracy."

Applicants were asked to share plans for environmental change in the city. Murray said some cities were turned down because "their dreams weren't big enough," but the plan submitted for Greencastle encompasses not only collaborative work with Casey's planning process for DePauw, but also discussions about the Greencastle environment spanning back to 1985.

The proposed plans includes many community wide efforts outlined in Casey's campus plan: renovation of the building facades downtown, second floor loft renovations to create living on the square, a parking structure, a WiFi bubble over the square, rehabilitative construction of connector streets to campus and additional signage. These plans would be coupled with the completion of the fourth phase of the pathway project, which seeks to create trails around Greencastle.

The grant would also be provided for musical, artistic and educational programming. This includes both money for events, and better performance and lodging facilities for guests.

Many of these changes would also be sustainable. For instance, new downtown lighting would be light-emitting diode or lead; ideally this would also encourage the university to use lead lights.

Murray also hopes that potential street rehabilitation would encourage people to park "vehicles behind and start making the walk on foot," she said. Murray said that a distinct part of the application involves campus and community collaboration.

"Since 1985 the city has been talking about some of these things. We reiterated that in 1991 when we did community assessment," she said. "Since one of the five tenants of Casey's presidency is to improve campus and community relations, this is a unique opportunity to look at two different planning processes that have brought us to the same place and same goals."

Were Greencastle to be selected, the grant money would need to be utilized in the next two to three years. Casey said the first changes made would involve improving streetscapes and upgrading the square to incorporate facade improvements and new outdoor seating areas, among executing other ideas.

Casey said the biggest challenge in drafting the next proposal is the "sheer amount of work." A partial by partial analysis of the properties, and prioritizing the most effective potential tasks are some of the necessary steps.

Casey confirmed that while the primary submitter is the city of Greencastle, DePauw supports the city's efforts as a "cultural engine."

"I can't tell you how lucky DePauw is to have a mayor to work with that's as strong, intelligent and ambitious as [Murray] is for Greencastle. We're very lucky," he said.

Overall, Murray emphasized that the grant would benefit the campus and community.

"The community realized that what we aspire to become was a college community that could be looked at as being the best one in the Midwest," she said. "That was the goal, and has been part of our planning process.

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