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Downtown group moving ahead

Discover Connersville purchased strings of sparkling solar-powered lights that the city put in trees along Central Avenue. More lights are planned to help brighten the downtown, the group says.

By BOB HANSEN - bhansen@newsexaminer.com

After just over a year in business, Discover Connersville is looking back at its accomplishments and looking forward to better things for the downtown.

“Our whole purpose is to improve the downtown,” Sharon McQueen, director, said. She serves in the position as a volunteer, having been asked to lead the group by Mayor Harold Gordon in the fall of 2017. With her, making the rounds to several businesses on Thursday, was Carolyn Bunzendahl, the group’s volunteer president.

They are hoping more downtown businesses and community supporters will join for the coming year. They also want to encourage participation in community endeavors.

It’s been a busy year, they report. A few highlights are listed.

• Formed a Festival Committee, which put effort into rejuvenating the Winterfest and other activities.

• Purchased the Santa House that is at 5th and Central; it will be decorated in the coming year and Santa’s schedule will be increased.

• Conducted a campaign to get donations that have purchased nine park benches that are installed downtown; two more are on the way and people can still donate.

• Working with the Fayette County Foundation and Whitewater Valley Arts Association, had two murals painted on downtown building, with “mini murals” of notable historical figures coming soon.

• Arranged for nearby businesses to take care of the planters near their buildings in an “Adopt-A-Planter” program. Also, filled the planters with pine boughs for Christmas.

• Downtown cleanup days. Volunteers picked up trash and businesses paid by Discover Connersville power-washed the sidewalks and exterior windows.

• Volunteers Brad and Kim Wilson planted Knock Out roses at the John Conner statue.

• Participated in the Enhancing Public Spaces workshops led by the Purdue Extension office.

• Purchased solar lights that the city installed in the trees lining Central Avenue.

• Organized a window-decorating contest.

Plans for the coming months include more of the same. Plus, the group has formed a task force that is working with owners of vacant downtown buildings to keep them maintained and find new uses for them, Bunzendahl said.

The group also is working with the Food Policy Council to try to get a downtown store to sell fresh food and other grocery items. Bike racks and perhaps a downtown walking trail are on the horizon, McQueen said.

Brad Wilson has just become the new president, and Bunzendahl is moving to vice president. Anne Sanders is secretary; Linda Finch, treasurer; and board members are Vane Lashua, Donna Schroeder, Kay Riker-Peyton, LaDonna Booker and Brian Durham.

“We’ve had a busy year,” McQueen said. “We’ve got a group of people who want to get things done. We’ve heard from people who tell us they are seeing things happen downtown.”

The group has been focused on Central Avenue from 3rd to 9th streets this year and plans to expand outward. Discover Connersville’s downtown takes in properties from 3rd to 11th and West Western to Water Street.

Discover Connersville is a local organization that is affiliated with the Indiana Main Street program run by the Office of Community and Rural Affairs. The state program is affiliated with the national Main Street program. That makes Discover Connersville – and local participants – eligible for grants.

Main Street programs require that communities commit to improving downtowns through actively working in four areas: design, promotions, economic vitality and organization.

“We’re eating the elephant one bite at a time,” McQueen said.

Working downtown

Discover Connersville, a nonprofit organization focused on improving downtown, is looking for more members. Along with working on various projects, the group also offers grants and loans to help downtown building owners and businesses.

Annual memberships can be purchased by businesses for $100 or by nonprofits and individuals for $50.

Among programs made available downtown are a Discover Connersville Revoling Loan; Urban Enterprise Association grants for facade renovation and improvement; a Historic Renovation Grant Program; and a revolving fund available from the Fayette County Industrial Development Corp.

For information about those programs, contact Sharon McQueen, director at 765-377-0602.