Ideas to revitalize downtown Corydon now under study
Ideas flowed freely last Tuesday at a required public hearing on the progress of a downtown revitalization plan for Corydon that’s 50 to 75 percent complete.
Planning consultant Peter J. Fritz with DLZ in Indianapolis, and Scott Burgins, senior project manager with Strategic Development Group Inc. of Bloomington, presented preliminary ideas and goals based on an informal, seven-hour public ‘workshop’ held here in March and then asked for questions and comments.
The two-hour meeting attracted 60 people, including Harrison County Council Chair Gary Davis and Councilman Carl Duley, vice chair, and was moved to the Harrison County Public Library rather than Town Hall to accommodate the unusually large crowd. The meeting was sponsored by Main Street Corydon, Harrison County CVB and the Town of Corydon.
Some of the ideas that got attention:
‘ Many people are concerned about re-routing truck traffic in town.
‘ More people need to live and shop in Corydon to support basic businesses, which ought to be clustered for convenience. The ‘mixed-use’ concept that was once part of every town center needs to be brought back: People want to live, shop and have fun in the same proximity, Fritz said.
‘ We need to protect what we have, retain existing businesses and assets in the core downtown, and help them expand, the sooner the better.
‘ Planners have identified the ‘Chestnut Street corridor’ as one key to economic revitalization. The street could be spruced up with more trees, buried utility lines and landscaped ‘bump-out’ corners for pedestrians. A landscaped walkway from Chestnut Street to an overlook on Little Indian Creek would provide a unique centerpiece and conversation piece.
‘ The three main ‘gateways’ to Corydon should be attractive, substantial and symbolize the town’s important place in Indiana history and invite tourists to major tourist sites, parks, forests and caves.
The north ‘gateway’ especially, near the Shireman Produce business at the junction of new and old state roads 135, could be even more attractive with a large limestone edifice that reflects the First State Capitol, the home of Gov. Frank L. O’Bannon and Southern Indiana’s forests and parks. That same national park-type theme would be carried out at the east and west entrances to the town and also in convenient ‘way-finding’ signs throughout town pointing visitors to the various attractions.
‘ There is great interest in promoting public events, entertainment and nightlife in downtown Corydon.
‘ Corydon and/or Harrison County needs a ‘brand’ or logo that all businesses could latch onto and help sell their products as well as the area.
‘ Corydon must attract more shoppers and tourists. A survey conducted here indicated that one-third of local shoppers head for Louisville to do most of their buying. That’s possibly 10,000 people, said Burgins. Many of them prefer to shop at night, when few Corydon business are open. The question is, said Burgins, how can we get shoppers back, or how can we get them to shop in our trade area (defined as seven miles out from Corydon in each direction) in the first place? Only 2,700 people come into Harrison County each day, and not all of them come to Corydon to buy.
What kind of businesses can be recruited to attract more customers, and how can local merchants change their product to be more attractive? Those are questions that must be addressed, Burgins said.
‘ A downtown parking garage in Corydon could provide space for cars on the ground or basement floor, have retail space on the second floor, and housing on the third. Several merchants said the parking problems in Corydon have become critical.
The planners said one solution to the parking problem is to have customers park behind the business, and make the way around to the store as attractive as possible, leading to business for other shops as well. For some reason, it was noted, people don’t mind walking for blocks in places like Indianapolis or Nashville, Ind., to find what they want, but they won’t walk a block out of their way in Corydon. ‘We’ll never make any money unless we address that problem,’ said Busy Bee Quilt Shop owner Doris Van Cleave, who is now operating her third shop in Corydon in the past 17 years.
Jennifer Reiss said Corydon needs the kind of businesses that can support evening and summer entertainment, like the festivals and concerts on the square, plus a convention center. That means restaurants, hotels and shops with unique Harrison County items for sale.
VanCleave said Corydon would benefit from starting a big craft show like the annual quilt show that fills the hotels and restaurants in Paducah, Ky.
‘ The planners realize the importance of developing the Keller Furniture site, but they are apparently leaving that to Main Street Corydon, which recently purchased the 14.6 acres under a lease agreement with the Harrison County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
‘ There needs to be places and activities for teenagers.
One idea that has emerged, according to Burgins, is that Corydon is like an old Shirley Temple movie: ‘Everybody loves it and thinks it’s cute, but it may not be relevant to their daily lives.’ Corydon needs shoppers, both residents and tourists, and it needs more people to live downtown to support basic businesses, and it needs to be kept ‘pedestrian friendly.’
Purdue University is now studying a ‘brand’ for Corydon, and another Purdue team is looking into the possibility of converting the all-steel pre-dryer building at Keller into a conference and entertainment center capable of seating several hundred people.
Fritz said the revitalization document will be complete in about 60 days and will be presented to the Indiana Dept. of Commerce for review before it’s presented to the town council. The DOC paid for most of this planning with a $49,000 grant.
It will be up to the town council to accept, reject or revise the plan and apply for funding from various sources, like Community Focus Fund grants and Transportation Enhancement funds, low-interest loans and historic preservations grants, which could ultimately total $2 million. If the funds are granted for the plans, then the bidding and construction process would begin. It would be three to five years before any changes would be seen, Fritz said.
That may not be soon enough for some merchants who have been struggling to survive. Burgins agreed. ‘R and E,’ or ‘retention and expansion,’ of existing businesses, will be a major goal of the revitalization study.