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Main Street Corydon to buy Keller site

Under a $300,000 lease arrangement with the Harrison County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Main Street Corydon will buy the Keller Manufacturing Co. plant site on Big Indian Creek and possibly pave the way for the most dramatic physical changes in downtown Corydon in years.
The decision was made Monday afternoon by a 4-0 vote at the monthly CVB board meeting at the Harrison County Public Library in Corydon. Voting yes were chair Michael Wiseman, Larry Bennett, Olivia Orme and Ed Pitman. (Dennis Mann was absent.)
With this deal, ‘The Big Indian Creek corridor becomes a major area of focus,’ said CVB director Jim Epperson.
Everyone involved in the deal says the 14-acre site ‘ now almost totally vacated by the downsizing furniture manufacturer, which has moved to its New Salisbury plant ‘ has great possibilities for a park, conference center, hotel, performing arts center, antique mall, museum, restaurants, office space, and artist and crafts studios.
Bud Bennett, president of Main Street Corydon, says the purchase of the Keller property (235,000 square feet of building space) may lead to purchase of the old Hurst Lumber company site nearby. Chuck Owen, president of the LNA and C Railroad, which runs through the plant, is out of the country, but Bennett said Owen is enthusiastic about the potential for more tourist activities along Big Indian Creek. Bennett said Owen is anxious to work with Main Street Corydon.
Bennett said Lee Parr King, owner of the popular Corydon Jamboree next to the Keller plant, wants to enhance and expand his theatre and parking space.
‘Everyone is enthusiastic,’ said Bennett, who started Main Street Corydon almost 20 years ago. ‘The main goal in the future is to find a developer who will help with what we want to do.’
Sean Hawkins, community development manager for the CVB, said, ‘The possibilities are huge.’ Epperson said all the planning must take Big Indian Creek into account because it has a tendency to flood. ‘This is a good way to deal with the flood plain,’ Epperson said.
And, ‘The land-use plan will definitely include any environmental clean-up.’
‘We have a great team committed to work on this: the CVB, Main Street Corydon and their staffs. We have experience with real estate, community projects, grantsmanship,’ said Hawkins.
The CVB will work with Main Street Corydon, the Town of Corydon, Harrison County government and the Harrison County Community Foundation in requesting state and federal redevelopment and environmental clean-up funds.
Epperson said the project will take a ‘public-private partnership’ to make it happen.
The real estate closing will be April 27 at 1 p.m. at attorney Bill Davis’s office in Corydon. Keller will retain control of the site until June 30, although it plans to be out by April 23, Keller chief financial officer David Richardson said last week.
By coincidence, April 27 is also the day the CVB will hold a public hearing at Town Hall on its downtown revitalization master plan. That is being prepared now by two consulting firms. The meeting starts at 4 p.m. (To RSVP, call Hawkins at 734-0581.)
Main Street Corydon got interested in the Keller site last fall when Bud Bennett heard that Keller would probably close its Corydon plant. He met with Richardson in November and they briefly discussed an arrangement whereby Keller might give Main Street Corydon the 14 acres for $1, but it would have to be approved by the Keller board of directors at its February meeting. Then several developers expressed interest in the site, and Bennett knew Main Street would have to buy it quickly. He and Richardson agreed on $300,000.
‘We had no choice, but it was a tremendous thing for the community,’ Bennett said last week.
‘All else being equal, we wanted it to go to the community, the town, which is good,’ said Richardson.
The contract was signed March 25 and Bennett put up $25,000 of his own money as a non-refundable deposit.
On April 27, the CVB will write a check for $300,000 from its capital development account to Main Street Corydon, which will write a check for $275,000 and give it to Keller. Main Street will reimburse Bennett for his $25,000.
Epperson said the capital development fund is ‘exactly what this is for. No one could have predicted this opportunity.’ The fund now has $403,000.
Bennett said Main Street is interested in two buildings on the Keller site:
The old brick manufacturing building, which has lots of square footage and could conceivably be transformed into a museum, antique mall, flea market, restaurant and office space, plus studios for artists and crafts people.
The other building, the all-steel pre-dryer building, could, with a raised floor, become a conference center capable of seating 600 to 700 people in banquet style. It might also include a stage.
The other buildings will be leveled.
Hawkins said the Main Street board is anxious for more ideas and input from the general public. ‘This is a project for the community to take advantage of an old manufacturing facility with a prime location,’ he said. ‘We want to be pro-active for the community.’
The MSC board and CVB officials will talk soon to determine how the public can get involved in the discussions and planning.
Epperson said there are two professional studies underway now. The downtown revitalization master plan, which will be completed in July, and a feasibility study for a conference facility, which is being done by Purdue University and should be completed in the summer.
Bennett told the CVB board Monday: ‘I think this is a historic time for Corydon and Harrison County. I’m glad that you are a part of it. You all and Main Street Corydon and, later on, with county government and the Town of Corydon especially, will be very important because of the grants that are available.’
Wiseman added: ‘Be sure to include the Foundation in the list of players.’
‘A lot of organizations had lots of money to put into this. It’s good to see them working together. I’m excited.’
‘This is a historic moment,’ Bennett reiterated. ‘The opportunities we have for the town, with all the people coming into town, all the visitors, with a conference center and the possibilities for the Corydon Jamboree and the creek corridor … There are just so many possibilities. It could be a tremendous asset for the community.’
Wiseman said it ‘opens up expansion of the downtown area.’
Larry Bennett, an active and successful local real estate developer, said, ‘Where else can you find 14 acres downtown’ with the prospect of being developed according to a plan the public will endorse, rather than by individuals.