The Bluffton NOW! downtown revitalization organization asked members of the Bluffton Common Council to support changing some north-south downtown alleys into pedestrian walkways.

Mike Lautzenheiser, president of Bluffton NOW!, received the support of the council as he is scrambling to put in a grant request due next week. No dollar amount was put on Lautzenheiser’s request, as the nature of the council’s support will be clarified at some point in the future.

For now, however, all five council members — Josh Hunt, Roger Thornton, Rick Elwell, Scott Mentzer, and Janella Stronczek — signaled that they backed the idea. All five council members gave the assent to Lautzenheiser going through with the grant process.

“I need to know if this is something that you would support in general,” Lautzenheiser said. All of the council members said they liked the idea, with Thornton saying, “I’d definitely like to learn more.”

According to a map of the proposal Lautzenheiser presented to the council members Tuesday night, the alleys from Market Street on the south to Perry Street on the north at two locations — midway between Marion and Johnson streets and midway between Johnson and Main streets — would become pedestrian only walkways. The alley between Walnut Street on the south and Market Street on the north, midway between Marion and Johnson streets, would become a passageway for both vehicles and pedestrians, as would the alley from Washington Street north to Walnut Street that is midway between Johnson and Main streets.

At some point in the future, Lautzenheiser said, two additional downtown alleys would be targeted for change. Both are midway between Main and Scott streets, from Walnut Street north to Market Street and from Market Street north to Perry Street.

Lautzenheiser sees the use of the alleys as pedestrian spaces as tying into the promise of the Parlor City Plaza, which he called a “vibrant” space.

“We want to provide the same aesthetic value as we gained with the plaza,” he said.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb introduced the Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative, known by the acronym READI, in May. The deadline for applications is this month, Lautzenheiser said, and he wanted a show of support from the Bluffton council before moving forward. He received it.

Pressed for details, Lautzenheiser said the improvements could be up to $150,000 for each section of an alley that undergoes improvement. The entire project could take $1 million, and if that turns out to be the case, the city’s share would be 20 percent — $200,000.
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