New business incubator now houses six small enterprises

BEDFORD — It’s back to the drawing board for the downtown streetscape plan that has been held up because bids were over budget.

But city leaders are optimistic that an upcoming meeting with Indiana Department of Transportation planners will put the project back in the 2017 funding cycle.

Marla Jones, the city’s business and community development director, said a meeting with INDOT is set for June 16 to discuss funding for the project.

The Downtown Streetscape Plan and proposed bike and pedestrian trail on Lincoln Avenue were originally separate projects in the city’s Stellar Communities proposal. They were later joined into one project. Bids for that project were $2 million over the estimated $4.2 million cost when opened in April, which prevented the project from going forward.

At that time, Jones said the city would pare down the project to contain costs and submit a revised streetscape plan to INDOT during the next budget cycle. Jones said because of some changes in the INDOT project schedule, a window of opportunity opened for the streetscape plan to get back on the schedule.

Although the details of the revised plan are still being worked on, Jones said the overall goal of the plan won’t change.

“During the Stellar planning, one of the priorities was improving the downtown streetscape,” she said. “The goal is to have a more walkable, accessible downtown.”

She said the tiered sidewalks on three sides of the downtown square pose barriers in the middle of the block for those unable to access via the steps.

“It is challenging for those with accessibility issues,” she said.

Depending on whether INDOT has funds for the project, Jones said the streetscape plan could have a bid-letting date in December, which would tentatively set construction to begin in spring/summer 2017.

As for the Limestone Trail on Lincoln Avenue, Jones said the project will be put on hold for now.

The update on the streetscape project was included in the latest Stellar Community Report for June 2016.

StoneGate Arts & Education Center

Bid-letting for the downtown building at the corner of 15th and J streets that previously was used as a fitness center, convention center and department store is expected later in the month. The StoneGate Arts & Education Center, formerly JC Penney, will be renovated to provide a downtown location for workforce training and degree work through partnerships with Oakland City University, Ivy Tech Community College, Radius Indiana, WestGate Academy and the North Lawrence Career Center.

The projected cost is $2.15 million with $1.5 million coming from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs and the remaining $649,531 from the city. The timeline calls for the project to be awarded in September and construction to begin in October.

Downtown facade project

The city received about $700,000 from OCRA to assist downtown building owners with facade improvements. The city will contribute about $128,000.

Jones said a committee is still reviewing what buildings will be included in the project. About 29 building owners originally applied, some have since opted out. She said the goal is to select 18-20 buildings. Because the downtown square is on the National Register of Historic Places, all renovations will be done according to historic standards. Work will include structural improvements, storefront repairs, window replacement and masonry tuckpointing.

Business owners will be responsible for 20 percent of the costs and the grant will pay 80 percent. Goal date for submitting the construction grant is Aug. 31.

Business development

One of the original Stellar projects was to create a business incubator. The city acquired the former Indiana Limestone building, 405 I St., from Oakland City University after it was awarded the Stellar Communities grant. That led to the incubator project being housed within this building now named StoneGate Arts and Education Center.

It currently houses six small business enterprises including 5D Analytics, a software company, CommonSense Bookkeeping, Bolton Custom Woodworking, CPI Bridge, AP Studio art instruction and Robert Williams & Co.

Nonprofits that are housed there include Success and Opportunity at Reading, Orbit Futbol, Lawrence County STEAM Robotics and the American Red Cross, Hoosier Hills chapter. StoneGate Center also provides free large and small meeting space and serves about 150 students who take classes through Ivy Tech and Oakland City.

Milwaukee Depot

The Milwaukee Depot moved a few blocks south from its original location to the corner of 14th and J streets on May 18. Work continues on the new foundation and masonry work will begin soon on the exterior. The depot, to be completed by Dec. 21, will house a community room and provide information on local tourism and trails, a gallery room that will tell the story of Indiana limestone and its Lawrence County roots in a modern way, and another room that will contain reproductions of the Land of Limestone exhibit now in the StoneGate Arts and Education Center on I Street.

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