The Shipshewana Town Council held a public hearing last week to receive comments on the town’s revitalization study report submitted by DLZ, which serves as the town’s engineering firm.
The report provides an overview of the town and areas of concern that are specific to Shipshewana, due to its unique population and the number of visitors the town draws in.
DLZ had sought public input via questionnaires and two prior public meetings. In the final report, DLZ noted that the list of “Desires and Concerns” was varied “due to the unique perspective of the individuals.” Topping the list was signage in the town, with more restrooms needed right behind. Additional “Desires and Concerns” included the need for more or new street lights, more parking, aesthetic improvements, the need for a public gathering place, and better sidewalks.
Based on its review of the input from residents and businesses, along with their own observations, DLZ provided a list of “Priority Improvement Options and Recommendations.”
Topping the list of recommendations were additional restroom facilities for visitors. The report noted that the town should investigate adding a second public restroom facility on the south end of Harrison St. on the north side of Middlebury St. It did acknowledge that this would be a “large cost item.”
DLZ also felt that the town should address improving and widening sidewalks throughout the town, noting a few specific examples of narrow paths along SR 5 as well as Harrison and Morton streets. As part of its recommendation for improving sidewalks, DLZ gave recommendations for altering traffic flow on Harrison and Morton streets that could help ease traffic congestion and allow for wider sidewalks. This included converting the two streets into a pair of one-way streets or eliminating parking on one side of each street.
The report also tackled providing wayfinding signage throughout town, better lighting recommendations, and the idea of a public gathering space in the downtown area.
Shipshewana Town Manager Sheryl Kelly noted that the study is strictly a planning tool and guide that will help the town focus on what it wants to work on in the future. The challenge, she said, is working within the town’s resources. The town will need to look at “what makes the most sense and benefits the most people?” Kelly said.
The total estimated cost of all of the recommendations came in at $750,000 or more, depending on the options. Kelly said the town will need to pick and choose carefully what projects to do.
And even those choices will affect other issues, she pointed out. For example, wider sidewalks would require narrowing streets due to limited space available in right of ways, as is the case along Morton and Harrison streets. “You may not have room for parking, then,” she noted. “It’s a give and take.”
The report can be taken as all or nothing or somewhere in between, Kelly said, as the town considers the ideas presented.
The real benefit to the town is having a plan to look to as they discuss ways to improve the town. “It helps us know when we sit down to discuss as a community to decide what out of all the recommendations, what we want to do,” Kelly stated.
The plan is also a necessary step in looking to get grants to implement the recommendations. “You have to be prepared. You can’t apply for grants without the study,” Kelly said. “When you go for the grants, you have to have things lined up. It’s a very competitive process now.”
The town also needs to join the Indiana Main Street Program. That has recently become a requirement to go after state grants.
Kelly said that the town will work on two parallel paths. The first will be joining the Main Street Program and get other items in line for grants. At the same time, the town will use the study to work with the community to focus on what recommendations to pursue.
The ultimate goal of the Downtown Revitalization Plan, Kelly said, is to make Shipshewana a better place to live, work, shop, and visit.
“We clearly have great community support and involvement,” Kelly added.