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Downtowns on display

BY Carolyn Muyskens - cmuyskens@chronicle-tribune.com

Fairmount is in the midst of a “Cinderella” story, according to Main Street Fairmount Director Alissa Meyer, and it's ready to show off its new look.

The town has installed new streets, sidewalks and lightposts downtown, funded by a $500,000 Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA) grant that was matched by local funds from the Town of Fairmount, as well as new benches, flowerpots, trash cans and banners that were paid for with donations from the community.

Main Street Fairmount is hosting a three-day festival starting today to celebrate the completion of this major revitalization project. The town was one of five Indiana towns and cities, out of 24 that applied, to receive a $1,000 grant from OCRA to help pay for the event as part of statewide Downtown Development Week.

Tuesday at 5 p.m., the town will kick off the festival at the intersection of First and Main streets with music from the Madison-Grant Jazz Band, a speech from Meyer and John Metzger, Town Council president, and a ribbon-cutting to officially mark downtown's new look.

Meyer emphasized the town's makeover has been designed to retain the “timeless” history and feel of old Fairmount.

“Because we're so well known for this as the place where James Dean was raised and went to school … (we) definitely wanted to stay within that design when we were bringing new things in,” Meyer said.

Local businesses are participating in the festival by offering special discounts today through Thursday, along with vendors and shopping on Main Street in the evenings that will be accompanied by live music.

On Thursday, Fairmount residents can participate in an “I Love Fairmount” golf cart parade at 5:30 p.m. Winners of the best decorated golf cart, along with winners of the festival's art contest, will be announced at 6:30 p.m. during the closing ceremony.

“(This festival) highlights two of our values; community and fun,” Meyer said.

She said finishing the revitalization project this summer is “a win” for the community and she wants to celebrate that.

“That's important in a community, to remember and recognize the good things that are happening … we're a small town that's gaining momentum,” Meyer said.

Also in conjunction with OCRA's Downtown Development Week, the Grant County Economic Growth Council is hoping to show off downtown Marion to potential developers on Wednesday.

During an invite-only tour of historic downtown buildings and a cocktail hour for developers, the Growth Council will also host Indiana Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch. Growth Council employees Mikayla Marazzi and Victoria Herring won an OCRA contest to bring Crouch to Marion using the hashtag #LgtomyDowntown on social media.

Growth Council Executive Director Tim Eckerle hopes to present the first part of a Downtown Revitalization Plan to developers on Wednesday.

On Friday, Main Street Marion hopes to fill the streets of downtown with art, food, music, activities and, most of all, people.

“I would love to see a large portion of the community all around Grant County, not just the City of Marion, downtown on Friday,” said Main Street Marion Executive Director Heidi Peterson.

Marazzi, who called the event a “self-guided tour” of downtown, said seven downtown buildings will be open for walking tours, with maps available outside Marion Design Co. The old Marion National Bank Building at 402 S. Washington St., recently bought by Michael Halstead of Halstead Architects, will host an exhibit about the history of downtown Marion.

“I think it's important for people to connect the past to the future and what is going on right now,” Peterson said. She said she hopes by seeing how vibrant downtown Marion was in the 1930s and 40s, Marion's current residents will be able to imagine a vibrant future.

Three different spaces will feature artwork by local artists, including the newly opened Design Studio 407 at 407 S. Washington St., the building at 123 E. Third St. and 139 E. Third St.

Marion Studio Project has organized an exhibit called “Art Lives Here” that will be on display at 123 E. Third St. that features canvasses painted by local organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club of Grant County, Grant County Rescue Mission, Creative CommUnity, Marion High School and St. Paul Catholic Church. Festivalgoers will have the chance to add their artistic input to another open canvas the day of the event.

A wide variety of food and drink vendors, including a beer garden featuring beer from Bad Dad Brewery and wine from Downing Vineyard and Winery, both located in Fairmount, will be set up on the courthouse square.

Live music schedule:

5 p.m. - Layla Adair Price

6 p.m. - Incas

7 p.m. - Mayor Jess Alumbaugh speaks about his vision for downtown

7:30 p.m. - Aaron Becker

8:30 p.m. - Kevin Angstmann

The event is geared toward the whole family, with activities like face painting and balloon art.

Marazzi said a focus for her has been getting a more diverse group of residents involved in the revitalization of downtown Marion.

“This is attempting to be a really inclusive community event … Its purpose is to get people invested and plugged into downtown … we'll have volunteer sign up sheets, tangible ways for people to take what they discover about downtown and get involved, so it's not just the same group of people who get to invest in downtown,” Marazzi said.

Ultimately, the goal is to bring the city downtown and help more Marion residents imagine what Marion's future might look like.

“(Discover Downtown) gives everyone who's there an idea of what the downtown could be like every weekend, not just every once in a while,” Peterson said.