City council members on Monday gave their blessing to putting up to $50,000 behind efforts to secure the state's coveted Stellar Communities Grant.
Mayor Joe Yochum asked the council for its support in hiring consultants to draft the extensive Stellar application and to update a nearly 7-year-old community-wide comprehensive plan, both of which are needed for the city to make a play for the multi-million dollar grant.
City officials learned in May that Vincennes was one of three Division 1 communities still being considered for the grant, which could lead to millions of dollars being pumped into the city in quality-of-life improvements.
A more thorough application is due Aug. 25, so Yochum must act fast.
The state, in naming Vincennes as a finalist, offered $10,000 to go toward the cost of developing the application, but it's going to take more than that, the mayor said.
And updating the comprehensive plan that looks at potential city-wide development is a needed component of the city's application.
“I don't think it will cost the $50,000, but I don't want to come up short and have to put everything on hold,” he told the council. “We're working on a very strict timeline.”
The city has enlisted the help of Bloomington's Strategic Development Group, the same firm that completed a downtown strategic plan last year, to do the application itself. That downtown plan will, in large part, make up the city's Stellar application.
It calls for things like the establishment of an Arts and Entertainment District, the transformation of the Gimbel Corner into an urban park, a sprucing up of First Street and, possibly, even a parking garage built on the city parking lot on Vigo Street.
But they also want to hear from the public, too.
The mayor has looked to Ellen Harper — who acts as executive director of the non-profit INVin but also has employment history with the grant administrator, the Indiaa Office of Community and Rural Affairs — for help in navigating the rather complicated process.
Harper told city council members that she has enlisted the help of Mark Hill — former city councilman, current Board of Works member and now United Way executive director — for help in facilitating two upcoming “community focus groups.”
Invitations have been sent to community leaders, elected officials, business owners and local professionals they hope will attend, but Yochum said those meetings will also be open to the public.
Harper said they want to bring “all facets of the community together” to talk about what the final application will look like.
“We want to hear their input because this is their community,” the mayor said of the public meetings, dates for which haven't been set.
And should the city be unsuccessful in securing the grant, Yochum said the information garnered from the application and in updating the city's comprehensive plan will come in handy in other ways.
“It would be quicker with the Stellar,” Yochum said, “but if not, we'll just apply for (other) grant dollars and push forward with these projects as we can.”
And Harper said even those communities not selected for Stellar money have often been successful regardless.
“Just to be able to go through this process has opened other avenues of funding,” she said. “(Communities) have learned and found other ways to get some of their projects completed.”
In previous years, such grants have funneled millions of dollars into Indiana communities — $18 million into Princeton and $19 million into Bedford — since the program was launched in 2011.
But the amounts aren't nearly that large anymore.
Harper said Rushville received the Stellar grant last year. Their application included $12 million in projects, and they received $5 million from the state.
The rest was raised locally.
Harper said while she doesn't know for sure, she expects the Stellar winner this year will receive about the same amount.
But, again, the grant dollars are only a small percentage of the overall investment made in a community.
As an example, city officials have said, should the city submit an application for, say, $10 million in improvement and quality-of-life projects, the grant would only provide about a third of the overall cost.
The rest would need to come from local investment.
The mayor said he is already out rattling the bushes for money.
Vectren Corp. has come forward offering to help with the local match should the city submit a successful application.
And Yochum said he would also look to local foundations, private businesses, etc. for the rest.
In the end, city council members seemed willing to learn from the process and use the tools for future development regardless of whether they secure the Stellar Grant itself.
“So we could get $5 million for a $50,000 investment?” asked council member Dan Ravellette. “A great investment, I would say.”