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Shelbyville looking at $22 million project to boost downtown

SHELBYVILLE, Ind. – An extensive project in downtown Shelbyville could begin later this year, if city leaders give the project the green light.

Mayor Tom DeBaun has drawn up plans that he said would attract people to the community, boost the workforce, and promote business around the city's downtown circle.

The project is expected to cost, at the most, $22 million. It has three aspects.

The first involves the city building the infrastructure for a private housing development at the old Major Hospital site, just a couple blocks west of the center of town. That would include building the streets, installing lighting and water and sewer lines, and public green spaces in the proposed neighborhood.

Another aspect of the project is building a 110-spot parking garage near the northwest quadrant of the downtown circle. The garage would replace an old furniture store that is now vacant.

The final aspect would be reconstructing the downtown circle that the mayor said deters people from shopping at the downtown businesses and constantly have driver and pedestrian conflicts.

The garage and road enhancements would help Genesis with its private project at the old Methodist Building. The five-story structure is the tallest building downtown, but it's been empty for a decade.

"It's about a $4 million investment and it's mostly all interior," said Ron Kelsay, a partner with Genesis. The company is part of the private sector side of the city's public-private partnership.

Kelsay said his project calls for developing four floors of corporate-style apartments, with the ground floor getting developed into retail space.

He said his project, and the housing development a couple blocks down the street, makes sense if the city promises to make the infrastructure improvements. He added the parking garage would likely get done first, so when the road work began, businesses would still have ample parking for customers.

DeBaun said population data in recent years showed the city's fastest-growing population was the senior population, which doesn't make for a long-lasting workforce.

"Our projections and our census figures have shown if we did nothing, we are shown by 2040 that will start losing population," said DeBaun.

The city's redevelopment commission will hold a public hearing on the project on the night of Monday, May 6.

Some in town oppose the project and would rather see the investment made elsewhere.

"I think the best opporutnity for economic growth is developing the interchanges," said Jeff Kaster. "Let that business bleed or trickle into the downtown area."

Kaster said he could get more on board with the project, but doesn't feel the city has been too transparent about the plans. He added even though the project still needs approval, he had the sense the city is going to give it the green light no matter what the public has to say.

The mayor said if the project is approved by all the needed parties that design talks would begin and he anticipated the overall price tag to drop. He added the work is not expected to increase taxes. He thought some work could begin as early as September.

"Any downtown is the heart and soul of the community and is a very clear indicator of the health of the community," DeBaun said. "If your downtown is thriving you got public pride, people investing money, people living there who want to live there."

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