INDIANAPOLIS — Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann named six Indiana communities Wednesday as finalists for the 2014 Stellar Communities Program, and Huntingburg was on the list.

Finalists are Huntingburg, Decatur, Marion, Mount Vernon, Nashville and Wabash. The City of Jasper applied but was not named a finalist.

The communities were selected from 14 applications by the staffs at the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority and the Indiana Department of Transportation.

Each finalist community will receive funds to prepare an in-depth strategic investment plan, and the program’s selection team will visit each city.

Two of the finalists will be selected as this year’s Stellar Communities this summer.

“The Stellar Communities program is an important way to support and encourage rural and smaller communities to create and implement innovative development plans,” said Ellspermann, a Ferdinand native who oversees the state Housing and Community Development Authority and the Office of Community and Rural Affairs. “Our team looks forward to visiting these communities to learn more about, and see firsthand, how the plans will impact the overall development of these cities and towns.”

Huntingburg Mayor Denny Spinner said city employees are thrilled with the designation.

“This is a great step forward for our community,” Spinner said. “This designation as a Stellar finalist is a major point of pride for us.”

Spinner said that although the designation is a huge move, there is still much work to be done.

“By no means is this the end of the road,” Spinner said. “The next step is to have our application reviewed by the full committee. In between now and then, our goal is to put some more meat on the bones of our projects and begin to identify partners and funding sources.”

Spinner had previously said the projects they chose to highlight in their letter of interest came largely from public input from Reviving the Pride listening sessions and from the updated comprehensive plan as well as the recent presentation of the city’s downtown revitalization plan.

Some of the projects in the application are senior housing redevelopment at the former St. Joseph’s Hospital (which recently received tax credits from the state), affordable family housing, improvements to the Fourth and Market street downtown park and The Heritage Trail, a paved walking trail that will connect all areas of the city.

“The Heritage Trail creates a loop that provides that connectivity to all of the projects we’re presenting,” Spinner said at an open house last month. “That’s very important to us.”

Jasper Mayor Terry Seitz congratulated Huntingburg for being a finalist during a Jasper Common Council meeting Wednesday night. Seitz also thanked the staff members and consultants who helped the city draft its letter of interest for the program.

“Over the course of several weeks and, by my estimate, at least a hundred hours of time, we created a document which directly responded to expectations provided to us by state officials over the last year,” he said. “We built upon our existing downtown and riverfront master plan and in my opinion the effort was indeed stellar.”

Seitz has said all along that planning would continue on projects on the master plan even if the city was named one of the Stellar Communities. Some of those projects include extending Second Street near the Jasper Train Depot to link Third Avenue and Main Street, extending Mill Street south to connect to the Patoka River and making the extension a pedestrian walkway, adding a walking and biking path on the north side of the river, creating a terrace called Patoka Steps to the south side of the river, adding a second pedestrian bridge across the river, renovating the former Astra Theater into a cinema and restaurant or café and re-purposing historic property for housing and senior apartments.

“While we should take a few moments to step back and reflect, we will immediately move forward with the work at hand,” he said Wednesday.

Since 2010, six Hoosier communities — Bedford, Delphi, Greencastle, North Vernon, Princeton and Richmond — have been selected from more than 60 applicants to the Stellar Communities program. The winning communities receive funding and educational and technical support to make comprehensive economic development plans a reality.
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