‘A game-changer’

FORTVILLE — Fortville officials are considering a plan to significantly redesign the area’s downtown by adding curbs, crosswalks and sidewalks to make the community more pedestrian-friendly.

To do so, town officials are weighing creating two new tax-increment financing, or TIF, districts, to attract new businesses to the area. TIF districts, which encompass commercial property, use property taxes collected from businesses in the district to promote economic development and pay for town improvement projects.

The proposal is expected to go before the town council for a vote in March.

The plan, led by the Fortville Redevelopment Commission, has drawn interest from town officials and business owners, both which want to see more pedestrian activity in the town.

Broadway Street, which divides the town into northern and southern halves, doesn’t have sidewalks and has little room for foot traffic. By increasing the area’s accessibility, town officials hope to make the downtown more welcoming to residents and visitors, as well as businesses considering locating to Fortville, said Burns Gutzwiller, president of the redevelopment commission, which is leading the project.

One of the proposed districts, called the Broadway Consolidated TIF District, measures roughly 250 acres and would span more than 2 miles along Broadway Street. The project calls for a major redesign of the downtown area that would cost the town anywhere from $6 million to $9 million — a sum that could be generated by the property taxes collected from businesses in the new district, Gutzwiller said.

The project would be a significant expansion to the town’s current TIF district, which takes up about 45 acres and no longer has room to accommodate any additional businesses, Gutzwiller said. That area, which was created in 2003, generates approximately $105,000 annually for the town, according to state records.

The second proposed district, called the Central Fortville Economic Development Area, would stretch from West County Road 1000N to State Road 234, including land from many properties along Fortville Pike. The district would take up nearly 200 acres, which is currently comprised of mostly farm land.

That district could be attractive to manufacturers whose operations require large swaths of land for production, Gutzwiller said.

Gutzwiller said he can’t predict how much the new TIF districts could raise for the town; that depends entirely on the sizes of businesses that locate there, he said.

The redevelopment commission has proposed spending some of a $480,000 surplus that’s been generated by the existing district to hire engineers and planners to design a plan for the new districts. By state regulations, money generated by TIF districts must be spent on projects that are designed to improve the area.

Given its proximity to interstates 69 and 70, Fortville is an attractive location for manufacturers, said Skip Kuker, executive director of the Hancock Economic Development Council. That access makes it easy for trucks to come and go and allows companies with large workforces to recruit employees from regional communities, he said.

And the effort to increase pedestrian presence in the community’s downtown is also a step in the right direction, Kuker said.

In recent years, Kuker said he’s seen a spike in the number of companies who want to build in communities with extensive sidewalk and trail networks.

“Getting cars off streets and getting the people out moving brings a closer-knit community, and that’s a really big deal to companies right now,” Kuker said.

Members of the town council showed interest in the proposal at a recent meeting but said they want to see firm plans before giving a bid of approval.

Tim Hexamer, a member of the town council who also sits on the redevelopment commission, said he’s met with several business owners whose buildings are located within the proposed Broadway district who are eager to learn more about the project.

Jeremy Chastain, who owns Personal Impressions, a graphic design business along West Broadway, said he’s supportive of the proposal for the Broadway district; by making the area more attractive to pedestrians through road projects, his business, along with those surrounding it, could draw more customers.

“I think it’d be a game-changer for Fortville,” said Chastain, who opened his business in 1997. “If it comes to fruition, it could really give people more incentive to come check the area out.”

Property taxes from the proposed TIF districts currently go toward the county, Mt. Vernon School. Corp. and Fortville-Vernon Township Public Library.

Despite an initial loss in funding, Brian Tomamichel, business manager for Mt. Vernon schools, said the proposed districts still offer promise to the corporation.

If the TIF districts end up attracting a significant amount of business to the town, that could spur residential development, leading more families to move to the area, which could increase enrollment and state funding for the school corporation, he said.

Still, Tomamichel said he wants to see a more clear-cut plan from the redevelopment commission that lays out a plan for development before giving a vote.

The redevelopment commission has invited business owners and residents to its next meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 18 at town hall, 714 E. Broadway St.

Coming up

The proposed new tax-increment financing, or TIF, districts will be discussed at the next redevelopment commission meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 18 at town hall, 714 E. Broadway St. in Fortville.

Business owners and residents are encouraged to attend.

Daniel Morgan is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (317) 477-3228 or dmorgan@greenfieldreporter.com.