Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of nine articles outlining each of the proposed projects included in this year’s Stellar Communities application. With all nine projects scheduled for completion within the next four years, there are a lot of changes coming to Wabash in the near future. We wanted to look into each of these projects to better explain what the Stellar Communities designation means for Wabash.
by Eric Stearley
Wabash is now a Stellar Community. With the wait over and the anxiety gone, there is a lot of work to be done.
“We realized as soon as we exhaled that the real work was starting,” said Marketplace’s Patrick Sullivan following the announcement.
Some of the first changes residents are likely to see will be streetscape and connectivity improvements coming to downtown.
“These improvements will activate underutilized public space and restore aging streetscape through new pavement, curbs, and sidewalks,” the Stellar application outlines.
The project will focus on Market Street, part of Canal Street, and Allen Street, which connects the two near Paradise Spring Historical Park. The biggest change will be the conversion of Market and Canal Streets east of Wabash Street into two-way streets.
“One of the issues we have with fully utilizing Paradise Spring Historical Park and the museum and some other opportunities down there is the fact that it’s so difficult for out-of-towners to find because of one-way streets,” said Economic Development Group CEO Bill Konyha. “You’ll actually be able to turn right on Market Street and go to the museum, instead of having to make three right turns; same with Paradise Spring. You can go to Paradise Spring by going down either Market or Canal Street, and you’ll be able to leave Paradise Spring by taking either Canal or Market Street.”
This conversion will make it easier for residents and tourists to access the museum, as well as the many events held in the park, such as last week’s Herb Fest or the upcoming Smokin’ For A Cause and Chili For Charity events. It also facilitates access to an upcoming project, the Rock City Lofts, which will be looked at later in this series.
“We’ve developed some of these projects to attract tourists, and we’ve developed some of them to provide tourists with an opportunity to spend money, but we’ve got to make it easy for them to get to those opportunities as well,” said Konyha.
In addition to this, improvements will be made to the area adjacent to the new two-way streets. The sidewalk, curb, landscaping and lighting improvements made to much of downtown more than a decade ago will be continued through this area, with the goal of matching the aesthetics of the rest of downtown. Trees will be added as well, bringing life and color to the area.
In addition to improving aesthetics, the project is aimed at improving access. The city’s ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Plan, completed in 2012, outlines specific sidewalks, crosswalks, and curb cuts needed to comply with national standards. Special crosswalks are planned for the intersection of Market and Allen streets, seen as a key intersection in connecting Paradise Spring to the East Wabash Historic District and downtown. The plan also includes reconstruction of the entrance to the Wabash Moose Lodge 1195 Family Center and improved access to city-owned parking. The project not only means improving what is known as the East Market Street District, but will serve to expand downtown as we know it.
Market Street will also see changes west of Wabash Street, thought it will remain a one-way street.
“The current streetscape has reached its lifespan,” the application reads. “The bricks and sidewalks have shifted and create tripping hazards and pedestrian access issues.”
While more than a decade of regular use and settling has contributed to this deterioration, much of it is due to the existing trees outgrowing their space, their roots causing damage to the bricks and sidewalks. These will be removed and replaced.
“We’re going to replace them with dwarf trees that, as they grow, won’t pull up the sidewalks with them,” said Konyha. “Fifteen years ago, when that was done, the wrong trees were planted. That’s basically what it comes down to.”
In addition, proposed improvements to west Market Street will include decorative crosswalks at each intersection and a mid-block crossing to allow easier access to the alley, which will see improvements in the near future with the completion of the Art Alley Project.
The total project is expected to cost just over $1.9 million. Local funds of just less than $380,000 are committed to the project, making up 20 percent of the project budget.
The city’s Strategic Investment Plan shows design work starting this month, with construction beginning in July of 2017 and a completion date of Aug. 2018, but the project is already ahead of schedule.
“It’ll never take that long,” said Konyha. “The design work is already underway. We’ve allotted a very long lead time for design, and in this case, I’ll actually be surprised if that project’s not done by next year.”
If that is the case, the Streetscape and Connectivity project may be the first glimpse Wabash residents have of the change coming to downtown.