The Columbia City town square is about 30 miles away from Wells Street in Fort Wayne. But when it comes to rejuvenating business districts, businesses in both areas are traveling the same path.
Columbia City was recently approved for Indiana Main Street, a program designed to help breathe new life into business districts. It’s modeled after a federal program initiated when Jimmy Carter was president. A portion of Wells Street was designed as an Indiana Main Street participant about three years ago.
Since 1980, more than 1,600 communities nationwide and more than 100 in Indiana have been working to save historic buildings and revive central business districts, according to state officials and those at the National Main Street Center, an office in Chicago.
In April, Columbia City was designated as part of the Main Street Program, a subsidiary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. While plans are in the early stages, Mayor Ryan Daniel and other officials have targeted a nearly one-block area west of the town square for possible revitalization.
Hal Huyghe, a businessman for more than 60 years, said he hopes being a Main Street community will infuse new blood and more money into the downtown area.
We need the business downtown, said Huyghe, 81, who has owned or managed several businesses in the area.
I retired once, he said, for about six weeks. But Huyghe missed old friends and customers – as well as the challenge and satisfaction of making a business work. So I bought this, he said, referring to the Dogs & Slider Diner, about a block off the town square.
AnnaDean Schrader, a customer at the diner, agreed on the need to bring people downtown.
So many businesses have moved out to Highway 30, taking activity away from the central business area, she said. Schrader also hopes the Main Street designation will generate renewed interest in the core of the city.
The city’s Main Street efforts will be cooperative between concerned citizens, business organizations, the Columbia City Redevelopment Commission and the city administration, Daniel said. The costs will depend on the sites to be rejuvenated.
Money is available through grants or loans through Indiana Main Street and other sources, including façade grants and revolving loan fund programs available through the Columbia City Redevelopment Commission.
Through Indiana Main Street, up to $10,000 is available through Downtown Enhancement Grants, spokeswoman Shae Kmicikewycz said.
The recipient must match the grant dollar for dollar, she said, but other money is available through the state’s Office of Community and Rural Affairs.
In Fort Wayne, Main Street efforts for the Wells Street Corridor are further along. The Wells Street Corridor, from State Boulevard south to Superior Street, was designated a Main Street area in 2011. Part of Broadway in Fort Wayne was also designated a Main Street area.
Shawna Nicelley is secretary-treasurer of the Wells Corridor Business Association. She is also an owner of G.I. Joe’s Army Surplus in the 1600 block of Wells Street. The army surplus store has been family owned for 45 years. Business in the corridor has been good, Nicelley said, and it’s been steady – thanks primarily to the efforts of individual businesses.
Many businesses, including Great Panes Glass Co., have been willing to lead or pitch in by lending equipment and workers for various projects, Nicelley said.
I can’t forget volunteers, she added. They’re wonderful. They do doing things like putting out flowers and helping with Christmas decorations.
So far, the Wells Corridor Business Association has not applied for any Main Street grants, Nicelley said, nor does the association plan to at this point. Wells Corridor Business Association activities are financed through dues, she said.
Nicelley also credits the presence of Fort Wayne police for making customers and shop owners feel safe. She walks in the area frequently, Nicelley said, and it’s not uncommon to see Captain P.J. (Paul J. Smith) walking the neighborhood and checking on all of us.
We have a fair amount of graffiti, but very little crime, she said.
The future seems promising, according to Nicelley, and the corridor already has features that make it unique. The Wells Street Bridge is listed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
And don’t forget, we have the Police and Fire Memorial in the corridor. We’re proud of that, Nicelley said.
Another supporter who is optimistic about the potential of the Main Street Program for the Wells Street Corridor is Philip Hartman, who has owned or managed several businesses in the area.
The corridor is already a good place to be, Hartman said.
But the Main Street Program will make it better.