City pursues revitalization funds

GREENFIELD — Joanie Fitzwater looks at downtown Greenfield and knows more is possible.

In her mind’s eye, there are awnings, historic windows, façades that look lifted from a Norman Rockwell painting.

A trail honoring Greenfield’s literary and artistic heritage wraps through the area, drawing residents to little shops and restaurants.

A $500,000 grant the city is applying for could make that vision come to life.

In coming weeks, the city of Greenfield plans to apply for up to half a million dollars of downtown revitalization dollars through the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs to spruce up the historic district. Roughly half the money would be used to set into motion a plan to establish a walking trail through the area; the rest would go toward improving the look of downtown buildings.

The Main Street Revitalization Program, funded by federal dollars, encourages communities to focus on long-term community development projects within historic downtown districts. This year, two $500,000 grants are available for eligible cities and towns.

Applying for the grant gives Greenfield an opportunity to delve deeper into its downtown revitalization plan — which was drafted in 2013 as a blueprint for sprucing up the area near State and Main streets — city planner Joanie Fitzwater told the city council this week.

The council gave Fitzwater permission to hire an engineer to draw designs and lay out cost estimates for renovations for buildings and a trail connecting the Pennsy Trail to downtown businesses; a rough outline of plans and their costs is required of cities applying for the revitalization grant.

The council also needs to decide how much funding it can afford to contribute to the project before the application is submitted — a 20 percent funding match is required for eligibility.

To apply for the full $500,000, a $138,000 match is required, but the city could consider a smaller contribution, Fitzwater said.

The odds of being picked are in Greenfield’s favor, Fitzwater said. She estimated 10 communities are interested in applying.

The development of the downtown revitalization plan — which was completed in 2013 as a blueprint for beautifying and ramping up activity downtown — was funded by an OCRA grant, Fitzwater said, so the organization is already invested in Greenfield’s historic downtown.

“They would like to see us implement that plan, pull it off the shelf and use it,” she said.

Her office recently sent letters to downtown business and building owners to gauge interest in a façade renovation program. If the funds come through, property owners who participate will likely be required to provide a 25 percent funding match, Fitzwater said.

So far, 15 to 20 property owners have expressed interest in taking part in a renovation effort, Fitzwater said.

Any sort of financial help downtown businesses can get is helpful in preserving the historic district, said Shelley Swift, director of Greenfield Main Street.

“This grant will do a lot to enhance our downtown and make it better,” she said.

The Riley Literary Trail, which would be loosely based of the Cultural Trail in Indianapolis and run from the Pennsy Trail through downtown, is a top priority in the downtown revitalization plan, but so far, there’s not been much funding available to make it a reality.

The first leg of the trail is expected to be built as part of construction on the North Street Living Alley, which spruces up an alley between North and Main streets downtown by adding greenery, a trail, festival lights and art. Construction on the living alley is expected to start next month and is being partially funded through a separate OCRA grant.

Mayor Chuck Fewell said the city would play an important role in continuing efforts to beautify downtown by providing a match for the Main Street grant. Greenfield is lucky to have a historic downtown, but the only way to maintain and liven it up is by supporting projects that aim to do so, he said.

“The only way you can redevelop the downtown is to go after these grants because you can’t take away from everything else to fund those projects,” he said. “It’s very important we take care of our downtown.”

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.