City puts $50,000 toward project

Effort to revamp downtown event space gets boost

GREENFIELD — The Greenfield City Council is putting $50,000 toward an effort to renovate a downtown event space.

Council members this week voted to allocate $50,000 of economic development income tax funding toward a project to double the size of ‘Lizbeth Ann’s Kitchen, an outbuilding behind the James Whitcomb Riley Boyhood Home and Museum.

Now, leaders of the Riley Old Home Society and James Whitcomb Riley Boyhood Home and Museum can submit a matching grant request to the Indiana Office of Tourism Development to help pay for the project, estimated to cost $172,500 before furnishings and landscaping are included, said David Crider, president of the Riley Old Home Society, the fundraising arm of Riley’s ancestral home.

Projects that contribute to the development and improvement of local economies and communities throughout Indiana by means of enhancing, expanding and promoting the visitor industry are eligible to receive funding, according to the Indiana Office of Tourism Development website.

City leaders have discussed expanding buildings on the Riley Home campus to create an event space since the late 1980s, officials said.

Earlier this year, the Hancock County Tourism Commission granted $50,000 to the project, which aims to demolish the 500-square-foot former garage behind the museum and replace it with a more energy-efficient building nearly twice the size. NineStar Connect and the Hancock Regional Hospital also donated to the project, bringing the total funds raised to about $51,000 before the city’s contribution, said council member Joe Skvarenina, who is helping with fundraising efforts.

Riley Old Home Society members and city officials said they believe improving the facility will not only improve the quality of tours for those who visit Riley’s boyhood home, giving visitors a place to gather, but also draw more events to the space, from corporate meetings to small weddings.

The garage was built in the 1920s and served as a garage until the Riley Old Home Society renovated it in the 1970s to serve as an event space, Crider said.

The proposed facility aims to solve several issues created by the age, inefficiency and condition of the current structure. It will expand the space and connect the building with the museum.

Currently, the building can hold only about 20 people and has one restroom that’s shared by men and women.

Because the building isn’t insulated, it can’t be used year-round, Crider said. As a result, the James Whitcomb Riley Boyhood Home and Museum misses out on rental opportunities that would help generate funding.

The facility will be equipped with WiFi and other technology necessary for business meetings to be held in the space and will be handicapped-accessible.

Ellen Kuker, superintendent of Greenfield’s Parks and Recreation Department, said the city supports the operating expenses of the James Whitcomb Riley Boyhood Home and Museum. In 2017, the city council set aside about $64,000 for the home, reports show.

Any extra funding generated through venue rentals would help offset some of those expenses, Kuker told the council.

Work is expected to begin on the project in early 2019.

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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.