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Workshops set to gather Opportunity Zone ideas

By BOB HANSEN - bhansen@newsexaminer.com

Proponents of a plan for rejuvenation of an area of northern and eastern Connersville by use of the Opportunity Zone program want to gather ideas from the public. They are organizing a Bright Ideas Conference on Thursday, Sept. 26.

The Opportunity Zone program allows people who invest in projects in certain economically distressed areas to avoid a large tax penalty on capital gains. Linda Fitzgerald and Shirley Wise believe they have some good ideas for what can be done here and also want to hear ideas from the community.

Two sessions will be conducted at the First Presbyterian Church, 700 Central Ave., in order to encourage as many people as possible to attend. The first will be from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and the second from 5-8:30 p.m. People may bring lunch to the early session or order for delivery from Brian’s Bistro, Fitzgerald said.

Wise, a former Fayette County Council member, has been presenting her plan for the former Kmart property to various government and community groups. Fitzgerald has been in contact with consultants and others who work with Opportunity Zone projects, trying to get them interested in Wise’s idea as well as some other thoughts for the area.

Wise believes the Kmart property, 2500 Park Road, could become a community center with recreational facilities. Assisted living housing could also be constructed there and the Fayette County Free Fair could have access to expanded camping and parking facilities.

The local Opportunity Zone, selected by Gov. Eric Holcomb based on local recommendations, includes an area on the northeast side, including the former Kmart property, the Fayette County Free Fair grounds, Roberts Park, Offutts Park and subdivision, and a wider area starting at 29th Street and going north on Western Avenue to the Connersville Airport.

Opportunity Zone is a federal program which provides incentives for private investors to use their money in economically disadvantaged areas. U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson says opportunity zones are helping revitalize communities in Indiana and across the country. He and U.S. Sen. Mike Braun toured an Opportunity Zone development in Indianapolis on Thursday.

The Bright Ideas workshops are meant to get people thinking about, “If we were to market Fayette County as a 21st century town, what would it look like?” Fitzgerald asked.

Wise said, “My hope is one of the things that comes out of this is 10 different ideas we can use.”

Along with Wise’s idea for the Kmart property, Fitzgerald believes Opportunity Zone investment could help rehabilitate housing in the Offutts subdivision. Much of the housing there consists of concrete block homes built in the World War II era. Fitzgerald envisions a program similar to Habitat for Humanity in which homes could be refurbished, providing employment and possibly housing for people who are struggling with substance abuse.

Fitzgerald said a group of consultants that she is working with wants public participation in helping determine the best use of Opportunity Zone stimulus for the area. The Bright Ideas Conference is meant to do just that, she said.

“When people leave there, they will be charged with coming up with ‘silver linings,’” she said. Those are things that can be done because the area has been designated as economically challenged. “We want them to be thinking about how to do they things they want.”

Following the Sept. 26 session, two more meetings would be conducted before the end of the year. In December, she hopes to present an action plan to the community.

To register for one the Bright Ideas workshops, people may send email to lsfitzg@aol.com or shirleywise0903@gmail.com.

Bright Ideas Conference

n Two workshops to gather ideas for projects in the Connersville Opportunity Zone.

n Organized by Linda Fitzgerald and Shirley Wise.

n Thursday, Sept. 26, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (bring lunch or order for delivery from Brian’s Bistro) or from 5-8:30 p.m. 

n First Presbyterian Church social hall, 700 Central Ave.

n Register by email to lsfitzg@aol.com or shirleywise0903@gmail.com.