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MUNCIE, Ind. – A newly formed group is working to improve the city’s long-term redevelopment and revitalization plan. Next Muncie, which launched this week, is made up of community members from the public, private, and philanthropic sectors.

The group is co-chaired by the city’s two largest employers, Ball State University and IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital.

“It was kind of a grassroots, organic growth, for this leadership team,” said Dr. Jeff Bird, IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital president.

The group said its initial focus will be on the central city but the effects will be felt across the city.

Leaders said the city has already seen positive growth.

“Very positive transformation in downtown Muncie,” said Bird, who is also the president of IU Health’s east central region. “It’s an active social hub now.”

It’ll take more work to keep that trend going. One focus is on providing more downtown housing options.

“One of our main challenges is our occupancy rate for finding living arrangements is about at 97 or 98 percent,” Bird said. “We look at the housing market and the apartment market. We just don’t have anything available for people who want to live downtown.”

Next Muncie also had a plan in the works to change that. A river front development project calls for the old Rutter building in the 400 block of Washington Street to be torn down. In its place will go 77 housing units that are expected to open next year.

“We wanted to start on a scale we knew, we were very confident that we were going to be able to bring to fruition and after that’s done, it’s very quick,” Bird said. “We have a goal to get the first phase done in 2019 and in 2020 and 2021 move forward with phase two and phase three.”

The housing is expected to draw in new professors for the university and a variety of healthcare workers at the hospital.

Next Muncie already has two projects underway as part of its work. They are Opportunity Zone and Ivy Tech Downtown.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb submitted 156 Opportunity Zone nominations across Indiana to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, four of which are in Muncie and have been officially designated by Treasury. The federal Opportunity Zone program, created under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, spurs investment in low-income rural and urban areas.

Ivy Tech announced in the spring construction plans for a new downtown location and renovations to the Fisher Building and Cowan Road campus. With the projects, the community college anticipates it will draw 2,500 students and community members to the heart of the city.

According to the school’s website, the work is expected to be completed by the end of 2019.