BATESVILLE - Depot Square Flats, 315 E. Pearl Street, is officially open for business following a recent ribbon cutting.

In September, the Greensburg Daily News covered the opening of this Romweber building which was made possible by millions of dollars being invested in downtown Batesville. The full renovations of this group of buildings are still ongoing and are certain to continue to bring large amounts of money into Batesville.

The new apartment building is the first market-rate historic restoration project between Cincinnati and Indianapolis.

The project’s reveal featured 54 apartments, cost approximately $12 million to complete, and was attended by state Senator Jean Leising, Mayor Mike Bettice and Councilman Bill Flannery, among others.

A former Romweber property, the structures have housed three companies: the Batesville Coffin Company, Batesville Cabinet Company and the American Furniture Company.

The first of the buildings on the complex was built in 1863 and the final building that currently houses the Depot Square Flats was erected in 1959. Bruce Rippe’s family took ownership of the Romweber Furniture Company in the 1980s and sold it to Jasper Seating in 2008. After the economy collapsed, the company closed and the buildings were empty for the first time in over 130 years.

At its closing, the business was the oldest case good manufacturer in the United States. With 450,000 square feet of closed buildings, the Rippes decided to open the Romweber Marketplace as a retail space. Mary Ellen Rippe said her husband Bruce had a great plan for what he wanted to do - tell the story of the buildings and how they connect to the story of the city of Batesville.

“When we started all the flats, we redid all the landscaping along Depot Street and we used the fresh well water there,” Mary Ellen Rippe said. “We used that water to water all our plants, thinking that the well would dry up, but it came back. It’s still a functioning well. The Big Four Railroad ran right in front of this building. We actually covered the tracks up when we did the parking lot, and Depot Street was the train stop. At that time, there were steam engines that needed water and got that water from the well. And where the Big Four Tavern was, that was a stage coach inn and stop. So we had both forms of major transportation at the time coming right through Batesville.”

The city was surrounded by hardwood forests which encouraged development of cabinetry in the town.

At one time, Batesville housed nine furniture factories, several of which brought back master carvers from Germany, building the identity of the city.

Art from Romweber archives dates as far back as 1879, as well as some art from the first mayor of Batesville, Geo M. Hillenbrand, lines the halls and community rooms of Depot Square.

Many of the Romweber furniture items on display in Depot Square are items purchased at auction or donated to the Rippes by individuals. Much of the second and third floor’s hardwood flooring is original to the building, but has been moved to these areas from what has become an attached parking garage. The boards were laid diagonally since the original builders believed that a contrasting angle between the f loors added strength for manufacturing.

The name Depot Square came from the designation given to its plot of ground when the first plat was done by the railroad and the city.

“Fourteen years ago, the city commenced work on a downtown plan,” Bruce Rippe said at the ribbon cutting. “One of the goals of that plan was to create density in the downtown. The target was to create more spenders to help get more retailers downtown. Nothing is ever easy or goes as quickly as everyone would like, but today fills a key measure of that plan.”

To date, that 2007 plan has seen $38 million invested into the downtown area and about 200 new residents with the completion of Depot Square. With the shortage of workers in the current economy, housing is a key component of the vigor of a city.

The Romweber renovations have been split into a five-part plan. The first phase was the Romweber Marketplace, followed by the Party Place wedding venue, senior housing and the newly opened Depot Square apartments. More apartments and loft condos are next on the agenda at the Romweber complex. With 94 senior apartments, 54 market- rate apartments, the Party Place wedding venue and the Romweber Marketplace, the Rippes have built 450,000 square feet of vitality in the heart of downtown Batesville.
© 2022 Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.