STELLAR CELEBRATION: Luncheon celebrates state’s big impact on Health & Heritage Region


GREENFIELD — The Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs chose Greenfield as the site of their annual staff meeting this year, celebrating an ongoing partnership with the region that received $15 million in grants through the state’s coveted Stellar designation in 2018.

More than 20 members of OCRA’s staff and 55 members of the local community gathered for lunch Wednesday, March 15 at Vine, a wine bistro located within the Bradley Hall event center in downtown Greenfield.

Afterward, the group gathered in the third-floor reception hall to hear community leaders share the impact Stellar funds have made on the community. The day culminated with a walking tour of Stellar-funded projects, most notably Depot Street Park off the Pennsy Trail.

OCRA’s community affairs director, Neil Elkins, was impressed with what he saw.

“I have made frequent trips to Greenfield over the last couple of years, and as many times as I’ve been there I always see something new. To see the sculptures and the (Depot Street) park and the amount of activity we saw at the restaurants and the shops was all very refreshing,” he said.

Greenfield partnered with Hancock County and the towns of Fortville and Shirley to compete for the highly competitive Stellar designation in 2018 as the community collaborative known as the Health & Heritage Region.

The region was one of two communities to be announced a Stellar winner that year, along with a community collaborative in Allen County.

Wednesday’s gathering was the culmination of the five-year process during which those funds have been spent enhancing Health & Heritage communities in ways local leaders could have only dreamed of prior to winning the multi-million bundle of grants.

Greenfield City Planner Joanie Fitzwater said the celebration was a way to show OCRA officials just how much the region has accomplished over the past five years, as the Stellar spending period draws to a close.

Elkins commended the group’s spirit of teamwork and collaboration, evidenced by the strong showing of support on Wednesday.

“It’s great to see the enthusiasm for working together to get these projects done efficiently. It’s easy to see the region’s members have been great stewards of these funds,” he said.

Greenfield Mayor Chuck Fewell praised the region for accomplishing so much within a relatively short period of time, thanking city and town officials for their willingness to maximize Stellar’s impact in the county through auxiliary funds.

“We took $15 million and leveraged that into $48 million spent on Stellar projects,” said Fewell as he addressed the crowd gathered at Bradley Hall.

Fitzwater said all of Greenfield’s Stellar projects — both those completed and ongoing — are connected to the city’s upcoming Riley Literary Trail, which will link multiple stops throughout the city, including the boyhood home of former poet laureate James Whitcomb Riley.

“This trail and all it encompasses will celebrate and embrace our community’s literary heritage,” she said at Wednesday’s luncheon.

Local leaders shared how Stellar’s multi-million dollar impact has made a lasting impact throughout the region.

Fortville’s town planner, Adam Zaklikowski, shared highlights from the town’s development of Madison Lofts — a workforce and senior housing initiative — as well as a multi-million dollar “road diet” project that will enhance safety and ease congestion along the town’s main thoroughfares.

Andy Ebbert, a member of Shirley Community Visionaries, shared how funding from Stellar and the Community Foundation of Hancock County enabled the town to create an inviting community park.

The community foundation’s president, Mary Gibble, called Fitzwater a trailblazer for her vision in pursuing and securing Stellar funds, the benefits of which will be enjoyed for generations to come.

“Mayor Fewell definitely opened the door for Stellar,” said Fitzwater, who had been an outspoken advocate for pursuing Stellar funding since coming to work for the city in 2009.

She recalled the dismal state of Greenfield’s historic downtown when she started work there 14 years ago.

“Twenty-five buildings were in a state of decay, eight had been lost to demolition or fire, and we had a 31 percent occupancy rate downtown,” she said.

Stellar funds, in addition to other funds awarded through OCRA’s facade grant program, have enabled the city to restore the facades on 15 of the 72 buildings downtown since then.

“Now we have a 97 percent occupancy rate on the first floor (of all downtown buildings), and Greenfield will continue to be the glorious downtown that it is,” said Fitzwater, who continues working with local building and business owners to maintain and enhance the district’s historic structures.

“Downtown Greenfield is such a small footprint, we need to maximize every square inch we have,” she said.

Fitzwater commended local leaders for helping the community secure not only the Stellar designation in 2018 but the Monumental Award handed out in 2022 by the Indy Chamber, which recognized Depot Street Park for the best creative reuse of a building or location with significant ties to the community.

“I guess that means we are monumentally stellar,” Fitzwater said with a grin, prompting a round of applause.


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