Trails and Economic Development Area Aesthetics on Redevelopment Commission Agenda Tonight

Karst Farm GreenwayThere are two items on tonight’s agenda for the Monroe County Redevelopment Commission (RDC) that are very important to me and the issues that I ran for public office on.

Placemaking for the Westside Economic Development Area

The first is a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a consultant to design aesthetic improvements to the County’s three economic development areas: Westside Economic Development Area, Bloomington Township State Road 46 Economic Development Area, and the Fullerton Pike Economic Development Area. I have written may times about these areas; this previous blog post has maps and links to several reports. According to the RFP, the project may include “items such as gateways, landscaping, decorative signage, art and wayfinding to delineate and personalize our economic development areas.”

These activities and elements are sometimes referred to as “placemaking” — transforming and reimaginging nondescript public spaces and giving them a real sense of place and identity. This certainly does include the elements in the RFP — signage, landscaping, etc. — but also needs to include an overarching concept…a name, an identity that hopefully accentuates the virtues of the space and its people, honors the history of the space, and envisions and enacts its future.

I’ve been particularly interested in placemaking for the Westside Economic Development Area. This area has been a real economic engine for Monroe County, and includes such businesses as Cook, Baxter, Grocery Supply.

Here is a letter I wrote early this year advocating for a focus on placemaking for the Westside:

“Since its establishment in 1993, the Monroe County Westside Economic Development Area (WEDA)—also known as the Westside TIF or the Richland TIF—has been an engine of economic development for the unincorporated area of the county, and serves as the site for many of Monroe County’s largest employers, including Cook, Baxter, Printpack, and Ivy Tech Community College. With the addition of several public amenities, including Will Detmer Park, the Northwest YMCA, and the in-progress Karst Greenway, the WEDA is also seeing and will continue to see a significant number of visitors (community residents) beyond the employees of the businesses in the WEDA.”

“Unfortunately, as successful as it is, the WEDA also falls short of its full potential as Monroe County’s employment and economic development hub. The area has no sense of identity or place. It is little known by residents who aren’t employees of one of the businesses therein. It has no well-defined boundaries (except on paper), and the primary entrance points on Curry Pike and Vernal Pike are at best unattractive and at worst somewhat blighted. For these reasons, marketing the area to prospective employers can be challenging – and even residents who are entering the area to visit the YMCA or other amenities are often confused, thinking that they couldn’t possibly be going to the right place.”

“However, a small amount of effort into giving the WEDA a distinctive identity and a distinctive, more attractive common visual appearance will pay dividends.

1.The area should have a distinctive name – one that honors our community’s heritage.

2.The area should have well-defined and visible boundaries and signage, particularly along common gateway areas.

3.The area should have a distinctive and attractive landscaping scheme, and common signage that
identifies the area.”

“An area with a distinctive identity and sense of place is easier to market to prospective employers. It connotes prosperity, attention, and care. Most importantly, though, it is more attractive and inviting to residents and visitors. While the economic development tools are in place to continue to sustain and enhance the success of the Monroe County WEDA, we can do much better for employees, employers, visitors, and residents.

Capital Equipment for Maintenance of the Trails

The Monroe County Parks and Recreation Department will also be presenting their request for $87,575 to the RDC to purchase capital equipment (truck with snow plow and spreader, mower, and trail-friendly maintenance vehicle) to support the maintenance of the county active transportation network, including the newly constructed Karst Farm Greenway. Parks and Recreation is proposing a total budget of $152,190 to maintain the trail network for 2015; this includes the $87,575 in one-time capital equipment. Presumably the Parks department will approach the County Council and request an additional appropriation for the other expenses — personnel, fuel, supplies, etc. early in 2015. The full proposed budget for supporting the active transportation network for 2015 can be found here: Parks Trails Management Proposal.

Since most of the County’s active transportation network is in or adjacent to the Westside Economic Development Area and serves the WEDA, the RDC is allowed to purchase capital equipment to serve the WEDA. However, it cannot pay for ongoing maintenance expenses.

I will be there tonight to support both requests of the RDC.

The full agenda is available here: RDC Agenda-11-19-14. The meeting is scheduled for 4:30PM today in the Nat U Hill Room of the Monroe County Courthouse.

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