Concerns voiced about downtown alley

The Seymour City Council spoke with some of the owners of downtown businesses, other property owners and a downtown resident on Monday evening about using American Rescue Plan funds to repair a downtown alleyway.

Solomon Rust, owner of Schwätzer’s German Restaurant at 113 Indianapolis Ave., came before the council to open up discussion about repairing the alley and see if ARP funding could be used to improve it. The alley runs east from Chestnut Street to Indianapolis Avenue and is just north of St. Louis Avenue.

He also asked if a plan could be put in place for the alley to eventually be worked on after more urgent projects in the city have been finished.

“When an issue is seen, I can’t see the whole view of the city, but if there was an asset management plan in place, maybe it would make those conversations easier to show ‘Well, you’ve got this problem here, but do you know about all of these other problems and priorities we’ve got to get to?’” he said. “It might just make the conversation a little bit easier when funding does come up.”

Rust also presented a petition signed by downtown business owners asking for the alley, which runs on the side south of his business, to be repaired.

Mayor Matt Nicholson said the alley had not been repaired because it is not the city’s No. 1 priority.

The largest priority, Nicholson said, was a main in the Mutton Creek neighborhood that has broken down five times this year.

People who work or live in the area spoke about the alley’s condition during the meeting.

A 2012 report from Jacobi, Toombs and Lanz found poor drainage, asphalt condition, limited lighting, public perception of safety, visible and unused utilities and access for trash collection, firetrucks and deliveries as the biggest hurdles.

Tom Goecker said he has owned buildings downtown for more than 10 years and has always run into the issue of water running through the basements of some of them due to infrastructure issues with the alley.

“I’ve got my neighbor’s water running through my basements,” he said. “I guess one of the ways I look at it, if I was a resident and a neighbor’s water was running through my building through a city alley, it wouldn’t take 10 years to get some help.”

Chelsea Burrell and Bethany Rust, who own Uptown Realty Partners on Second Street downtown, both said they’ve shown buildings that have standing water in them.

Burrell said water is getting into buildings instead of a dry well.

“It’s sitting on the surface of the property,” she said. “It’s going down through the basements.”

Rust said she had lost two “significant” tenants that lived downtown in the last couple of months, and there are buildings in the area she is interested in buying but won’t do it because they reek of sewage and have standing water.

Weldon Thurman said he has worked in Seymour for the last seven years and has lived downtown for two years.

He said he thinks downtown has been the best it has ever been because of the amount of restaurants and businesses that have opened there and was concerned the condition of the alley would get worse and the problem would get bigger.

“They’re not emergencies right now, but eventually, they will be, and they’ll be expensive,” he said.

Developer Bill Hiday said he owns buildings downtown, and his biggest concern is the alley’s condition getting dangerous to the point that it leads to lawsuits.

He said he didn’t care how the alley repairs were funded. He just wanted to see it fixed.

“I don’t necessarily want to leverage because we do appreciate everything that is being done and what you guys continue to do, but at the same time, it’s kind of us leaning on you guys,” he said. “It’s your alley. Fix it. ARPA, GoFundMe, I don’t care. Figure it out. Fix it.”

Rust said there were conversations with the city about repairing the alley when Schwätzer’s opened in September 2020, but they came to a halt once the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

Councilman Drew Storey said Rust approached him recently to set up a meeting with other councilmen to learn what kind of funding could be used to improve the alley and how to tackle the issue itself.

Rust said he learned that Dave Earley was his councilman and members that are at-large — Storey and Councilman Bret Cunningham — also represent the area containing the alley.

Storey said the councilmen decided the best approach to addressing issues with the alley would be to start the conversation at the next city council meeting.

Since the alley is owned by the city, Storey asked how people could apply for ARP funding since it would be for a city project and an asset not owned by whomever applies for funding.

Seymour received $4.16 million in ARP funding, and the city council passed a plan during its last meeting that establishes how the money will be distributed.

Funding is spread across five different categories: Infrastructure, 60%; nonprofits, 20%; government services, 8%; small businesses, 7%; and tourism, 5%.

Clerk-Treasurer Darrin Boas said one of the council’s committees would probably be the best way to address the issues, and it was decided that the city’s thoroughfare and drainage committee would look into how the alley’s repair could be funded.

That committee consists of Storey, Cunningham and Councilman Jerry Hackney.

Storey said the committee plans on having an update about the alley at the next city council meeting Sept 12.

Seymour Main Street also discussed enhancing the alley, but that was in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, but nothing came of it.