By: Charles Jamieson—
If you’re like me, it has been exciting to watch our city, and in particular, the downtown core (defined as inside the border of Madison, Wysor, Liberty and Victor streets), change for the better over the past four years.
At times, over the past few years, it has been difficult to keep up with everything happening; a new downtown hotel, Erskine Green, a post-secondary education training institute designed for individuals with disabilities, a new parking garage adjacent to the hotel, Walnut streetscape, façade improvements, the resurfacing, sidewalk improvements and general enhancement of S. Madison, the paving of more than 75 linear miles of roads within the city limits, Liberty Pass canal and the much needed, long overdue, yet sometimes frustrating, storm water and sewage separation project that was seemingly everywhere we turned.
We imagined reaping the benefits of all of this revitalization. We don’t have to only imagine it any longer.
The hotel is often full which is having a positive ripple effect on other downtown businesses. The convention center has upwards of seventeen more conventions scheduled than the previous year. You see other business owners in the downtown taking the initiative to spruce up their properties. One can not only sense, but see, a palpable increase in pride, excitement and traffic, in our downtown.
Mayor Dennis Tyler, in his recent “State of the City” address, confirmed our beliefs. He reported twenty one new businesses opened in the downtown core in 2015. $70 Million dollars was invested in downtown public improvements. Nearly $400,000 worth of new private development city wide, a 7.2% increase from the previous year. I could list more.
With all of this flurry of development activity, it would be easy to sit back, rest on our laurels and become complacent. It might be tempting to exhale and say “good enough”. We must resist this temptation. Now is the time to apply the accelerator, not the brakes.
For much of the past forty years, we sat helplessly watching the auto industry, the life blood of our local economy, pack up and leave town, along with jobs and people who held them. During this time, we have been licking our wounds, wondering if we could ever bounce back. It has been a long and bumpy road for Muncie from the late 1970’s to the present and we’re not out of the woods today, but panic and fear is beginning to be replaced with hope and optimism. Thanks to the partnership within government, business, Ball State University and our local foundations, we can see a much brighter tomorrow on the horizon for Muncie.
The Mayor also reported 98% of downtown residences are occupied. This is a very critical statistic. If you are 98% full, there is pent up demand to live downtown. Projects such as the Riverfront development and other potential residential projects, including new construction infill, are a must in order to satisfy the demand and bring new high quality housing – and residents – to Muncie and the downtown.
For better than a decade, there has been a national trend of individuals moving back to our nation’s downtowns. Muncie has lagged behind in this area, due largely to a lack of quality housing in the downtown core. Today, we have roughly one thousand people living downtown. More apartments/condos available equates to more residents living downtown. More people means more related businesses such as restaurants, stores, etc.
More mix-use, residential and commercial housing is the next critical step for our city and now is the time.
The re-vitalization of Muncie, particularly the downtown core is crucial. Much of our downtown is beautiful, historic and has been restored, however there are still areas that time has not been kind too and now is the time for bold thinking and plans in order to bring more people to our city, be it visiting, working or living.
Directly related to these revitalization efforts is the positive impact it will also have on our Muncie Community School system. If our community has more vitality, is more attractive, has more to offer in the way of amenities, such as an arts and cultural district, a connected city and university with bicycle and pedestrian friendly trails, people will want to move here, businesses will want to locate here, all of which increases population, generates more revenue, both of which directly helps our local, cash-strapped public school system.
Simply put, Muncie Community Schools cannot thrive without a thriving community around it.
We simply cannot afford to stop the progress we’ve seen over the past four years. It’s taken forty years to arrive at this point. We won’t fix it in four, or even four more. However, if we pull back, resisting the change required to bring about a brighter future, we won’t get there at all. Stopping reinvestment, is not a recipe for success.
Our city does have a brighter future ahead. In order to seize it, we, the community, need to show the courage it requires, embrace the exciting vision that lies ahead and continue moving our city forward as, together, we create “the next Muncie”.
Charles Jamieson is a resident of Muncie and a community advocate.
Pictures of our community.