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Main Street Corydon must decide where it’s headed

Most of the people who attended the “Main Street 101” class last Wednesday night at the Leora Brown School in Corydon had a sense of deja vu. They’d taken the class before, back in the ’80s, mastered the subject matter, and applied what they had learned in the community.
In only a few years, with financial support from local banks and doctors, and armed with the design expertise of the first director, Miriam Rowe, Main Street Corydon led a well-publicized economic and architectural transformation of the downtown.
Now the movers and shakers were back again last week for a refresher course, somewhat jaded and a little nervous about recent developments in town but ready to get charged up again to face new challenges with a new tourism manager and a new community development manager in place, armed with training, experience and specific skills.
Indiana First Lady Judy O’Bannon brought the Main Street Indiana community revitalization program to Corydon in 1986. It emphasized organization, promotion and economic development.
The local Main Street organization has had only four presidents since then: Insurance executive Bud Bennett was the first president, followed by Dr. Bruce Burton and then banker Jack Ragland. Bennett’s daughter, Pam Bennett Martin, vice president of Bennett and Bennett Insurance, has been president of Main Street Corydon the past 10 years or so.
Martin may step down – or be encouraged to stay in leadership one more year – at the follow-up meeting tomorrow (Thursday) night at Magdalena’s Restaurant starting at 5:30 (call 738-2137 for more information). Current board members are Bud Bennett, Fred Cammack, Jan Frederick, Pam Bennett Martin, Gordon Pendleton, Bill Taylor, Dr. Sharon Uhl, and Darrell Voelker. New board members may be added, and a work plan and new issues will probably be discussed.
The Main Street 101 meeting at the Leora Brown School started with a familiar subject: traffic-generating businesses leaving the town square and uncertainty about its future.
Third District Commissioner Jim Heitkemper had asked to speak. He said the commissioners are looking at remodeling the Harrison County Court House on the square and possibly transforming the old Harrison County Jail across the street, on North Capitol Avenue, into county office space. He mentioned the possibility of buying property north of the new Mexican restaurant in Corydon for parking, and the possibility of adding on to the Harrison County Justice Center west of town.
Typically, he noted, when government leaves the downtown, businesses will follow. He said he hopes Bank One keeps its office downtown, and he said keeping county government offices downtown would help make a better downtown.
Corydon businessman and pharmacist Tom Butt expressed alarm that if any more county offices leave the square, “Why not just tear it all down and make it into a parking facility?”
Heitkemper said he didn’t mean to sound anti-downtown. He wants to keep the courthouse downtown, add more county offices in the old jail, and keep the square area viable. His feelings were echoed by Jim Klinstiver, a long-time member and past chair of the Harrison County Advisory Plan Commission.
Klinstiver said he thought the county seat was harmed and lost business from people throughout the county when the Corydon Post Office and Harrison County License Branch moved away from the town square. If any more county offices move “out on the hill,” he said, “you might as well close up shop.”
The speaker for the evening, Mark McConaghy, director of Indiana Main Street, agreed. He said, “Government should lead the downtown. When government leaves the downtown, it sends a big signal to property owners. Do whatever you need to do to let them know you want them to stay.”
Martin said the Main Street Corydon veterans were ready for a “400-level” graduate course, but McConaghy’s comments were helpful to new business people and others who are just getting interested in Main Street. “We are waiting for the director to take us forward and solidify the vision of what we want to do: have the downtown be a viable representation of what this county is.”
She was pleasantly surprised at the attendance – 50 to 60, including some people who want to start a Main Street program in Salem – considering the bad weather and the other usual Wednesday night activities.
Martin said the meeting also sends a message to the state program that Main Street Corydon is still viable, active – and ready for more grant money.
Bud Bennett said, “We know what we have to do, and Sean Hawkins knows what has to be done.” Hawkins is the community development manager hired by the Harrison County Convention and Visitors Bureau following a Main Street Corydon brainstorming session in the spring of 2001. He will likely work closely with Main Street Corydon.
Now, Bennett said, one of the big challenges is getting more merchants to participate because they are the main beneficiaries. He said the members of the Historic Downtown Corydon Association ought to be on the phone encouraging others to come to the Thursday night meeting. “The support is not there like it was before” when the banks and several physicians came up with a lot of cash almost overnight to get the program started, he said.
“Where are these people?” Bennett asked. “This is their community, too. I don’t know how to get people involved. Maybe there are too many other activities. But this is just as important as anything else in the community.”
Hawkins opened the meeting by saying Corydon has many challenges, including the loss of Stewart’s Furniture and the Bridgepointe Goodwill store to the Landmark Avenue hotel and restaurant area north of town, the uncertainty of government offices on the town square, plus Harrison County Hospital’s plans to move to a new location off Interstate 64. He said some businesses in New Albany and Jeff have asked some local businesses to consider moving there.
Hawkins said it’s vitally important for everyone with an interest in Corydon and Harrison County to work together to improve sales, profits and the quality of life here.
McConaghy said Corydon has a nice mix of businesses, property owners and government. “Usually, businesses and property owners are the last ones to get on the bandwagon and the first to benefit.”