The City of Wabash is the only one of the six Stellar Community Grant finalists to be a repeat from the 2013 grant cycle. However, Mayor Robert Vanlandingham isn’t taking that as a sign of a sure thing for the city.

“It only means that we can’t be complacent,” he told the Plain Dealer in an interview Thursday afternoon in his City Hall office. “Bill Konyha and I have already talked about that. We’re not going to be complacent.

“We’re going to take a good, hard look at what we had last year and see if there’s some way we can tweak it and make it better. We may add a few things, maybe take some things away. But we absolutely don’t believe that will give us a leg up.”

Vanlandingham likened this year’s Stellar Communities process to his days as a former fast-pitch softball team manager.

“If you went into a game thinking you had it made, you usually ended up getting beat,” he said. “We’re not going to go that route.”

If chosen as a Stellar Grant community, the city would receive about $23 million in various grants and tax incentives for specific projects around the community, primarily in the downtown area.

Wabash – along with Decatur, Huntingburg, Marion, Mount Vernon and Nashville -- were selected from 14 applications by the staffs of the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority and the Indiana Department of Transportation. Each of the six finalists will receive funds to prepare an in-depth Stategic Investment Plan and will have a site visit by the selection committee. The top two finalists will be announced later this summer.

The city will again work with American Structurepoint, an Indianapolis-based consulting firm that helped prepare its 2013 grant proposal, Vanlandingham said.

“They worked closely with us last year,” he said. “I saw nothing of us not getting (the grant) that was an issue with them. Their guidance was great, so I see no reason to change horses in the middle of the stream here.”

The city’s 2014 plan will be very similar to the 2013 proposal. One of the major differences will likely be changes to a proposed outdoor amphitheater at Paradise Spring Historical Park.

“I think we’ll probably end up taking it out,” he said of the proposal, noting that working to refurbish the Eagles Theatre would be emphasized.

He also believes loft housing downtown and plans to help refurbish homes in a section of the city between Allen and Wabash streets will be added.

“I think we’re going to do a much better job at that,” Vanlandingham said, noting that the home refurbishing plan is related to a grant that Wabash Marketplace Inc. also is seeking.

WMI Executive Director Patrick Sullivan told the Plain Dealer that the agency is working with Region III-A Economic Development District & Regional Planning Commission to develop a proposal for the funding. One proposal, which will become part of the Stellar Communities grant proposal, seeks $1.2 million to help rehab homes in an area between North Allen and North Wabash streets up to the general area of Wabash County Hospital.

Those funds would be used to help make the homes more compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in structures where the owners actually live. Rental properties would not qualify for the funds.

“I think we’re going to tie those two together a little better,” Vanlandingham said of the housing plans. “And when we make that tour, we’re not going to say we’re going to do this in this region. I would like to say … we’re going to do something to this house. We’re going to do something to this one.

“I think tying the two programs together will make it a much stronger presentation that we had last year.”

A park for special needs children also will be added to the plan, the mayor said, noting that a site – either one in Wabash City Park or one near the city’s Skate Park – still needs to be determined.

“I think the package we had last year was a very strong package,” he said. “I think we’re just going back to relook at it.”

Konyha, President and CEO of the Economic Development Group of Wabash County, headed the Stellar Grant Committee last year and said he would be honored to do so again this year. While Vanlandingham hasn’t officially asked him, he is certain it will be a done deal.

“I would pretty much have to beat him with a club to get him to say no,” the mayor joked.

Vanlandingham said he also will re-evaluate the Stellar Grant Committee, saying last year’s group worked together well and “I see no reason to change that overall.”

“They did a really good job last year, and if they’re ready, willing and able to take another shot at it this year – and I don’t think I’m going to have a hard time talking them into it – I think they’ll be ready to go.”

Vanlandingham said he has heard some preliminary dates related to the project, but that nothing has been finalized. That will happen in a few weeks when representatives from the six finalists have a meeting in Indianapolis with program organizers.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge again,” Vanlandingham said.

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