City officials and community leaders envision One Chamber Square in downtown Seymour as a place for more than just summer picnics.
They hope to redevelop and transform the area at the corner of Chestnut Street and St. Louis Avenue into a destination for people and families to gather and enjoy spending time downtown.
A preliminary concept plan from HWC Engineering shows added elements, including porch swings, interactive art, musical features for children, tables and chairs and other architectural and landscaping features.
One of the most important aspects of the project is making the area compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The current design of One Chamber Square has picnic tables set up in a pit area with concrete steps on the west and north sides but no ramp.
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That pit would be filled in and made flat, and curbless street design would be implemented, similar to Fourth Street in Columbus. Parking along the south side of St Louis Avenue would change from parallel to angle parking.
Another major piece is a pedestrian crossing from Jeffersonville Avenue over the Louisville and Indiana Railroad into the new Crossroads Community Park on the east side of the tracks.
The price tag for the whole project is just more than $1 million.
On Monday, the Seymour City Council voted 5-1 to apply for funding from the Community Development Block Grant Main Street Revitalization Program from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs. The application is due by July 20. Councilman Shawn Malone cast the only dissenting vote, and Councilman John Reinhart was absent from the meeting.
“I think just because you can spend money does not mean you should spend money,” Malone said.
If awarded, the city will receive $600,000 for the work and will have to contribute a total of $440,000 in required matching funds. Of the matching funds, $430,000 would come from tax increment financing revenue from the Seymour Redevelopment Commission, $5,000 from the city’s economic development income tax fund and $5,000 from Seymour Main Street.
Grant writer Trena Carter with Administrative Resources association said the city will be notified in August if the project receives state funding.
“I know this is a high priority for Seymour Main Street. They have been doing a great deal of preplanning for this project as well as working with the city engineer and the mayor,” Carter said.
But some people question whether the city is getting the most bang for its buck.
During a public hearing for the grant application at Monday’s council meeting, Seymour resident Steven Buffington said he would rather see the city invest money in other more used areas.
“We’re about to spend a whole bunch of money on this small project when we’ve got all this other stuff going on,” he said. “When was the last time, other than from Cars and Guitars, we got new equipment in the parks because I don’t remember. We’re not paying attention to that and trying to push new projects when we’re not even taking care of what we have. That’s what disappoints me.
“There’s lots of other projects we could do and places we could put money,” he added. “I don’t want people to think I’m against this idea because anything to help Seymour is a positive, but I feel that money can be spent in a better way, places where more people will use it.”
In voting against the grant application, Malone said he agreed there are more pressing issues that need attention.
“The majority of folks I speak with want to see more things getting done — road repairs, basic infrastructure, flooding issues,” he said. “And while I understand these are different dollar pools we are talking about, folks would like to see us figuring out these problems, not building more signs and pocket parks. Those can come later.”
He would like to see the city incorporate its parks into the TIF districts to divert some of that money for needed repairs and updates in the parks, including the pool.
“While I’m aware the pool is not a moneymaker for our city, it is about one of the only things left for the children and adults of our community to do that we offer outside of ball diamonds and older playground equipment,” Malone said.
He also thinks the city could help finish the skate park.
“I feel we should finish some projects before once again starting some new ones,” he said.
Although he applauds Seymour Main Street’s efforts for the downtown, he doesn’t want the community to lose sight of other local businesses that are not downtown.
“I ask that we, the city, find ways to help those small businesses find ways to update and revitalize, as well,” he said.
Several people spoke in favor of the One Chamber Square project, saying it will help increase traffic downtown and make it an overall better destination for people.
Becky Schepman, executive director of Seymour Main Street, said the downtown is a measure of the city’s growth and success.
“If the downtown isn’t thriving, then neither is the city,” she said.
Downtown business owner Amanda Easton said she is excited about the project and is encouraged by all of the work Seymour Main Street and the city are putting in to improve the downtown.
“It’s great to see downtown booming,” she said. “I enjoy participating in all the Seymour Main Street events, and I think that this will be an awesome asset to our downtown. It’s very family-oriented and encourages families to spend time actually in our town and not go outside to other communities.”
Marvin Veatch, president of JCB, said adding to the quality of life in Seymour with projects like this is a step in the right direction in attracting new residents, keeping people here and bringing more economic vitality.
“I look at this and view this certainly as an investment in our community,” he said.
Melody Hageman, chairwoman of the Seymour Main Street design committee, said she has lived in Seymour for 60 years and remembers when downtown Seymour was “alive and kicking.”
“Every store was full. Friday nights, the stores were open,” she said. “You took your families down there. My dad would take us down there to get ice cream at Baldwin’s, and then downtown just fizzled. “
Although it will never be what it was, Hageman believes the downtown can flourish again.
“I’m getting very excited to be a part of this because I see that there’s really fresh ideas,” she said. “I don’t think the old Seymour will ever be back, but I think we can make something really new and exciting.”