Rachel Steckler, director of community development in Huntingburg, said alleyway activation was first discussed during a comprehensive plan update process in 2019.
The foundation of that project and other civic endeavors is a meticulously researched and documented 144-page report called “Your Home, Your Huntingburg.” In its own words, “‘Your Home, Your Huntingburg’ is a comprehensive planning document that uses a community vision and set of goals to lay a foundation for Huntingburg’s future for the next 10 years. This document will not only serve as a guide for future land use, policy and development strategies, but will include specific programming used to strengthen targeted issues and improve quality of life for residents.”
The document, which was adopted in 2020, included an overarching vision, goals and a set of strategies that respond to changing demographics and markets while creating policies that guide the city’s future planning and development decisions. The plan is split into three distinct sections that include introductory information, the vision and strategies, and an implementation plan, which includes action steps for the plan’s strategies.
With so much work having been performed before construction of any kind could begin, it is not surprising to city leaders that everything has gone well.
“The current project was selected as a high priority, due to its proximity to iconic Memorial Gym,” Steckler said. “We continue to receive feedback from our downtown businesses about the need for more accessible parking, so this project will also enhance the walkability between public street parking and our historic downtown.”
The “current project” to which Steckler referred is improving the alley between the Huntingburg Bank building at 418 Fourth St. and the former Overtime Restaurant at 422 Fourth St. He said the overall goal would be ultimately to connect it all the way to Fifth Street.
Alleys today are generally looked at much differently than they once were. Often seen are small businesses such as cafes with outdoor seating. One might see murals and attractive lighting. Overall, they represent a clever use of space that had often been underutilized. A current trend is photographic shoots in such areas, especially senior pictures and engagement pictures that yield results quite different from the old days of black velvet backgrounds and formal portraits.
“The current project is the first,” Steckler said. “While our goal is to do similar projects in other alleyways, we have not yet identified the next potential project. This particular one was made possible through an Indiana Uplands Regional Opportunity Initiatives grant and with work from Landscape, Art and Architecture through our partnership with the Indiana University Center for Rural Engagement.”
The estimated cost for the alley improvement was about $344,458, and the city received grants to help fund it. The ROI grant was a Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative Grant in the amount of $110,819, and part of the match for the grant enabled the city to include work needed during the Fourth Street Improvements for the city’s portion of the project total – $115,000. That work involved updating storm sewers underneath the alley and adding overhead lighting, as well as parking bollards at the entrance.
The IU Center for Rural Engagement also awarded the city two grants totaling $39,286. The IRFH is a partnership of the university’s Environmental Resilience Institute; Landscape, Art and Architecture; and the CFRE. The program assists communities of 50,000 or fewer residents; Huntingburg had 6,422 in 2021.
IRFH offered technical assistance and environmental expertise to submit the federal grant applications. The remaining amount on the project – $20,000 – was covered through the Community Development budget along with funds from the American Rescue Plan Act in the amount of $60,000.
The vision statement for the ‘Your Home, Your Huntingburg’ comprehensive plan reads as follows: “Huntingburg — A City Like No Other — is a welcoming, diverse, and connected community that is a prime location for cultural and recreational amenities, destinations, opportunity, and a place people are proud to call HOME.’”
Similar to the vision statement, the city’s goals are intended to be broad and lofty – something to be achieved over the next 20 years. The plan is divided into four elements, with goals provided for each: land use and housing, transportation and utilities, economic development and tourism, and quality of life. The alley projects are just the first steps in a plan not only for the next 20 years but also to create improvements that can be enjoyed all along the way. It will be interesting for residents and visitors alike to see it all happen and for other towns to pick up the reins and see what they can do in their communities.