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Growth Council woos developers

BY Carolyn Muyskens - cmuyskens@chronicle-tribune.com

Although a contract for the scope and cost of a market study for downtown Marion hasn't been finalized yet, Scott Burgins of SB Research and Planning delivered what Growth Council Executive Director Tim Eckerle called a “superficial review” of existing reports on the downtown area to invited developers Wednesday.

The Grant County Economic Growth Council hosted 15 representatives from Indiana-based developers in an effort to generate interest in Marion's historic downtown buildings.

The developer tour is part of a recent push by the economic development group to attract investment in downtown Marion. The Growth Council is hiring Burgins to conduct a study of downtown Marion to identify the market potential of downtown.

What Eckerle called a “superficial review” of existing reports on the downtown area is part of the first step of a study tentatively priced at $18,000. The first step, budgeted at $3,000, includes a review of existing reports such as the Marion 2030 Comprehensive Plan and other reports and grant applications unearthed by Burgins, as well as a summary of developer's thoughts on downtown potential.

Based on previous work, Burgins said Marion has “a unified and consistent vision of what's needed to support downtown” and “a widely supported set of implementation plans already underway.”

The handout provided to developers said city officials and organizations are working to move people downtown, connect downtown to the Mississinewa River and the Cardinal Greenway, “create plaza and festival spaces” and work on job growth and retention.

Burgins said one common vision across the different grant applications and reports is the creation of “a regional arts and cultural district” through partnerships with Indiana Wesleyan University and the Community School of the Arts.

A taste of the demographic data that will be available in the larger report was also provided to developers.

Eckerle said Burgins bought the updated market information for the Marion area from international demographic data firm Esri. He believed the Esri data cost “less than $1,000” although he was not sure of the cost or how much data was included in the purchase. The preliminary scope of work suggested the cost would be between $800 and $1,500 for updated data.

Main Street Marion had access to 2016 Esri data about the central business district that included market potential for restaurants and retail as well as a housing profile and a gap analysis of the area, according to the preliminary scope of the study. The Main Street Marion data could be used for a housing market assessment and an assessment of market potential for downtown buildings, two possible components of the study, the document said, but would be “somewhat outdated.”

The Indiana Small Business Development Center (ISBDC) offers Esri market and demographic data to small businesses for free, according to Peggy Cenova, regional director of East Central ISBDC.

Cenova said small businesses can access Esri data through the ISBDC's subscription to Esri. The business has to be a client of the ISBDC to access the market information, but Cenova said ISBDC does not charge for its services, which also include consulting and marketing plans for small businesses.

Eckerle is still seeking input from downtown stakeholders, including owners of downtown buildings, before he settles on what the revitalization plan and market study for downtown Marion will include.

He has asked for feedback – and plans to also ask for help in paying for the study – from the city planning department, Marion Design Co., Indiana Wesleyan University, the Community Foundation of Grant County, Save Our Stories, Main Street Marion, Affordable Housing and from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA).

Eckerle said the next step was “refining” the study to ensure it meets the many stakeholders' needs.

Eckerle also said several of the developers who toured eight historic downtown buildings Wednesday commented that they would like more information from the market study.

The buildings toured were 100 S. Washington St., 200 S. Washington St., 402 S. Washington St. (Marion National Bank Building), 428 S. Washington St. (Centrum Mall), 301 S. Adams St. (The Office Building), 225 S. Adams St. (Jesus Fellowship), 141 E. Third St. (Old CSA Building), 139 E. Third St. (Wolfe Building) and 123 E. Third St. (Old Beatniks Building).

The tour, presented in partnership with Indiana Landmarks, advertised these historic buildings and the potential for tax credits and OCRA grants for the revitalization and renovation of the buildings.

Eckerle was not sure if all of the buildings on the tour qualified as historic properties under the eligibility requirements for the OCRA Historic Renovation Grant Program. A voicemail left for Paul Hayden, director of the regional Indiana Landmarks office, went unanswered Thursday.

Thanks to a social media contest to bring the lieutenant governor to different Indiana communities for Downtown Development Week won by Growth Council employees, the Lieutenant Governor of Indiana, Suzanne Crouch, also attended both the tour and a cocktail hour, where she spoke about the importance of downtown development.