By: Geoff Mearns, Co-Chair & Jeff Bird, Co-Chair, Next Muncie—
MUNCIE, IN—For the past two years, Next Muncie has been meeting to champion projects that have transformative potential for downtown Muncie and its adjacent neighborhoods. The group is already seeing a number of big wins for the community.
Next Muncie—a team of leaders representing Muncie’s largest employers, city officials, economic and downtown development representatives, and members of the private philanthropic sector—regularly consults with economic development groups from across the city and region to identify projects that could benefit from additional public, private and philanthropic partnerships. The group then works to marshal resources, enhance communications and make connections, and provide project management as needed or requested.
A few of the projects the team has most recently championed include White River Development, the McKinley Live-Learn Neighborhood, the Riverside-Jackson trail and more.
White River Development
Among the group’s earliest successful projects was a vision to create a vibrant riverfront development overlooking the White River in downtown Muncie. Plans for the mixed-use development include a restaurant with ample outdoor seating, a public plaza and riverwalk, and a 55-unit mixed-use apartment building. Groundbreaking for the “White River Lofts” apartment building was held on May 28, 2020.
Next Muncie has worked closely with city and local economic development officials for several years to bring the project to fruition, helping to vet and secure a developer for the site, assist with land assemblage, and communicate with restaurant and retail establishments that would make the area an additional downtown destination.
“City master plans dating back to the 1980s envisioned the riverfront as a vibrant amenity. We’re now seeing this come to life,” commented Vicki Veach, a member of Next Muncie’s Central City Leadership Team and executive director of Muncie Downtown Development Partnership, a nonprofit organization. “By late fall 2020, we envision that sections of the riverwalk and public plaza will be complete. Additionally, we’ve been strategic about marketing the new apartments to major employers in the community whose employees want to live and work in downtown—and the response has been phenomenal.”
McKinley Live-Learn Neighborhood
Just a few blocks northeast of the riverfront development is another area of focus for Next Muncie—the McKinley neighborhood. With Muncie Central’s campus nestled in the heart of the neighborhood, its close proximity to downtown and cultural amenities, and the White River and trails bordering the neighborhood’s northern and eastern edges, a “Live-Learn” concept is driving redevelopment visions. A number of developers have indicated an interest in creating new housing within the neighborhood, and Next Muncie members are working with the community to bring to life plans for new retail, offices and businesses where students can intern/apprentice, as well as childcare options to complement the neighborhood’s existing amenities.
Most recently, Next Muncie helped to facilitate communications that led to Destiny Christian’s purchase of the former Kidz Korner childcare facility in the neighborhood. Additionally, Next Muncie recognized a need to respond to developers’ interests in building new housing in the neighborhood. The team is also helping Delaware Advancement Corporation to work through the logistics of accepting nearly two dozen parcels of property that can be used for future development in the neighborhood.
“Developers want to know that land is available and ready for development activity,” said Jay Julian, a member of Next Muncie and president of Delaware Advancement Corporation. “Acquiring certain properties gives us a portfolio of available land that can be marketed to developers that share the Next Muncie vision for a walkable, bike-friendly neighborhood that is close to downtown and Muncie Central. Additionally, it helps the Muncie community in our efforts to attract and retain families and individuals who want to be at the center of activity as well as promote a stronger quality of life.”
Next Muncie’s vision for connectivity expands beyond the downtown core. The group was instrumental in securing highly competitive funding in 2019 to build a new trail along Jackson/Riverside on the city’s Westside. The trail will bring new connectivity to the Ball State University campus from the Westside of Muncie, extending close to Yorktown.
“We continue to have positive dialog about enhancing the connections between Yorktown and Muncie through expanded trail systems,” said Jeff Bird, co-chair of Next Muncie and president of IU Health East Central Region. “From both a wellness and economic development standpoint, trails are a win-win. Next Muncie is committed to continuing to facilitate conversations with partners that will bring to life trail plans that have existed for decades.”
Design and engineering of the Riverside-Jackson Trail is nearly complete, and construction is set to begin later this summer.
Next Muncie Structure
“The creation of ‘Next Muncie’ was really driven by a recognition that community revitalization is a decades-long process. It also requires long-range vision and tremendous patience,” said Geoff Mearns, co-chair of Next Muncie and president of Ball State University. “We know this is a marathon, not a sprint. So we are keeping our eyes on the horizon and helping to advance projects that can be catalytic for Muncie.”
Another recent example of this vision was Next Muncie’s involvement in the submission of a $24 million federal BUILD grant. The funding opportunity was brought to Next Muncie’s attention, and the group quickly rallied behind Mayor Ridenour to combine the talents of representatives from the City of Muncie, Muncie Downtown Development Partnership, Vandewalle & Associates, FlatLand Resources, Baker Tilly, the Delaware County Planning Commission and outside advisors to write the grant proposal. As detailed in a recent article published in The Star Press, if funded, federal dollars would be used to enhance major downtown corridors through infrastructure modernization and beautification.
In addition to the ten core “Central City Leadership Team” members, over 30 individuals from across the community also volunteer their time on “Project Management Teams” (see attached graphic) that focus on exploring ideas and advancing efforts to increase employment opportunities, revitalize downtown and surrounding neighborhoods, and build an even stronger quality of life. Recognizing the power of partnerships, Next Muncie formally teamed up in late 2019 with the Muncie Action Plan to further integrate community voices into long-term, large-scale planning efforts.
“The value of Next Muncie is really in the shared, long-term vision of this group,” said Muncie Mayor Dan Ridenour. “Every month, we come together to use the knowledge, connections and resources we each have to advance key projects in the community. The city and county can’t drive revitalization alone. No economic development organization can do this alone. The private sector can’t either. We need collaborative, public-private-philanthropic partnerships to make this work—and Next Muncie helps us do just that.”
Next Muncie’s Vision: Muncie will emerge as a vibrant city that attracts and retains residents and visitors by providing high-quality employment opportunities; by revitalizing neighborhoods that offer healthy lifestyle choices; and by fostering an innovative culture of entrepreneurship, education, healthcare, arts, entertainment, and recreation.
To learn more about Next Muncie, visit nextmuncie.com