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Officials in Wells seek funds for new plaza

January 9, 2019

BLUFFTON : Bluffton and Ossian officials on Tuesday presented their vision for an outdoor plaza and combination pavilion/amphitheater to the Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority.

The communities are requesting 2.1 million project, known as Grow Wells County, over the financial finish line. The board is expected to vote on the application as early as next month.

The RDA was formed to distribute the $42 million in Regional Cities Initiative funds to projects within the 11 counties that joined to vie for the state dollars.

The outdoor plaza would be beside the Wells County Courthouse in downtown Bluffton on a lot now occupied by a building damaged in a November 2011 fire. A retailer doing business on the first floor would be relocated. Officials wanted a mural, green spaces and seating in the proposed courthouse plaza, which was designed after reviewing similar spaces across the state.

Michael Lautzenheiser, president of Bluffton NOW!, said the design also includes ramps and electrical hookups to allow food trucks to enter the space and do business.

“We wanted to have something that really fit the mold of other communities in Indiana,” he said. “We really looked at the nitty-gritty.”

The pavilion/amphitheater would be in Ossian’s Archbold Wilson Park, a 60-acre site near Ossian Elementary School. The revamped park also would include a trail, 5 acres of wild flowers, a playground, an 18-hole disc golf course and a hillside-sitting area for the amphitheater.

The pavilion portion of the building would have restrooms and a concessions area.

Kody Kumfer, president of Ossian Revitalization, presented his town’s piece of the project. After the meeting, two women from the community complimented him on the effort.

About 40 Wells County residents attended the meeting to support the project. Jeff Turner, an RDA board member, said officials take such shows of support seriously.

“Your presence here is very important to us,” he said. “Congratulations for getting (the formal request) here. This is the heavy lifting, getting it to this point.”

Although the board won’t vote until February, at the earliest, Turner confessed that his vote “won’t be ‘no.’”

“You had me at ‘hello,’” he added with a smile.

Board members Bob Marshall and Gene Donaghy, who lives in Wells County, also complimented the officials on pulling the proposal together, a task that included lining up property rights, zoning approvals, bank loans, and private and public financial support.

If approved, construction on the combined project could begin in the fall and be completed in 2020.

In their written request to the RDA, officials said, “Both Bluffton and Ossian are diligently working to be more intentional towards providing a quality of life that can accomplish our growth goals as a region.”

Northeast Indiana’s submission to the Regional Cities Initiative was titled “Road to One Million,” a reference to the population threshold economic development officials believe the region must reach to attract major employers. Numerous projects : large and small : have requested and received a share of the grant money. They include The Landing, The Clyde Theatre and phase 1 of riverfront development in Fort Wayne; an aquatics center in Columbia City; an early learning center in Manchester; an outdoor recreation center in Kendallville; and a network of connected regional trails.

sslater@jg.net

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