It seems like forever ago to Seymour Main Street Executive Director Becky Schepman that a team of Ball State University students visited the city to come up with ideas on how to improve the downtown.
The project went from discussions of a few minor cosmetic changes to a huge streetscape overhaul with the potential to make a major impact on downtown development, Schepman said.
On Tuesday morning, city leaders, state officials and others gathered at One Chamber Square to officially break ground on a $1 million project that will completely change the look and feel of downtown Seymour.
"We’re so excited about it," Schepman said.
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New features will include interactive musical instruments and artwork, a playscape for kids and new seating. The changes address accessibility making the area compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
The project will be completed by May 2020. Schutte Excavating of Greensburg plans to start construction next week.
But One Chamber Square is just one piece of the whole downtown puzzle that is coming together, Schepman said.
"Just the idea of this project has generated a lot of buzz," she said. That includes the addition of four new restaurants she hopes open by next summer.
There’s also a mural currently going up on the north side of the Edward Jones building at 201 S. Chestnut St. facing Tipton Street and a John Mellencamp mural is in the works on the east side of This Old Guitar at 106 W. Second St.
All of the activity is being highlighted during Indiana’s Downtown Development Week which runs through Saturday.
Launched in 2018, the week is an opportunity for communities across the state to hold events and activities within their downtown and commercial districts, spurring economic development and showcasing updates they have made to the downtown spaces.
"It is just a huge week for downtown Seymour, and we couldn’t be more proud," Schepman said.
Also taking place this week downtown is the third annual Ghouls and Goblets event from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday and the Scarecrow Stroll which runs through Oct. 31.
The One Chamber Square project would not be possible if it weren’t for collaboration and community partnerships, Schepman said.
Construction is being funded by a $590,000 state Community Development Block Grant from the Office of Community and Rural Affairs along with $430,000 from the Seymour Redevelopment Commission, a $10,000 Impact Grant from the Community Foundation of Jackson County and $5,000 each from Seymour Main Street and the city of Seymour.
“We are excited to participate in this project, which the foundation is confident will enhance our downtown and community overall, providing a warm, welcoming gathering place for Seymour residents and visitors to the community,” said Priscilla Wischmeier, chair of the foundation’s board of directors.
Jodi Golden, executive director of the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, said the One Chamber Square revitalization is a project deserving of her office’s support and attention.
The state awarded only three grants for Main Street Revitalization projects, she added.
"One of the main things we want to see is collaboration," she said. "When communities come together, that’s what attracts people to the downtown. That’s what makes people want to live and congregate in a downtown."
Once a community has a thriving, vital downtown, it sets the stage for more businesses, more jobs and more people to move in, she added.
"You guys continue to do an excellent job with that," she said. "I’m so personally proud of Seymour and I can’t wait to see when this is done. The collaboration here in Seymour is evident. It does not go unnoticed."
Golden said Seymour’s energy is one of its many selling points.
Mayor Craig Luedeman said the project is a perfect example of how Seymour comes together to make good things happen.
In his 12th and final year leading the city, it’s another project he can check off his list of goals as mayor.
"This has been a great collaboration of a lot of different pieces and parts coming together in a grand vision of the city," he said.
One of the biggest reasons the project became a priority is because of the accessibility issue, Luedeman added.
The current design has picnic tables set up in a pit area with concrete steps on the west and north sides but no ramp making it difficult to navigate for wheelchairs and strollers.
"One of the complaints we always hear is that it’s not ADA accessible here. How can we change this and how can we make this more interactive and more fun?" he said.
The pit will be filled in and made flat, and a curbless street design will be implemented similar to Fourth Street in Columbus.
Other features will include a sculptural Seymour sign, a trellis with bench swings, a seat wall, a turf-covered area with play features, tables and chairs, a music play area with interactive instruments and benches.
Although parking will change from parallel parking to angled parking along the south side of St. Louis Avenue, the number of parking spaces will stay the same.
One feature that won’t be part of the project is a pedestrian walkway over the Louisville and Indiana Railroad into Crossroads Community Park.
City officials have been in talks with the railroad company about the crossing, but the process does not enable the project to be completed in time, so it was eliminated.
Luedeman thanked HWC Engineering for their creative design of the project and said it will go a long way in attracting people to visit and stay downtown.
"This goes back to getting people downtown and walking in the community, getting people actively using this piece and Crossroads Park and tying those all together, so that you can come down, have a nice, joyous time with your family and just enjoy everything going on," he said.