Downtown Middlebury projects, Vibrant Communities moving forward

By Terry T. Mark In between raking leaves and getting ready for turkey day, we’re spending our November putting things in place for a great 2017. Here’s a sampling:

Middlebury taking several steps forward

Middlebury's downtown will soon feature new directional signage for visitors.
Middlebury’s downtown will soon feature new directional signage for visitors.

Middlebury is busy enough as it is, from the usual midday traffic to visitors making a beeline to Das Dutchman Essenhaus and downtown shops to bicyclists and walkers along the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail. But expect to see more people walking around town thanks to new programs under development that should be ready as summer unfolds in 2017. Guided walking tours highlighting the colorful stories of Middlebury combined with insights about local businesses, parks and churches will be put into place. The tours are intended to give local residents a fuller flavor of their hometown, encouraging them to be better consumers and cheerleaders for the community. Middlebury’s tours mirror guided walking tours that the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau developed in downtown Elkhart in summer of 2016. Also in the works are visually appealing directional signage and kiosks featuring local maps that will help guide visitors around Middlebury. The signs, which are expected to be installed within weeks, are part of the Live Work Play capacity grant program that the ECCVB developed to assist downtown areas throughout Elkhart County. In Elkhart, the grant funds downtown business attraction and retention efforts while in Goshen, it supports fundraising for Goshen Theater renovations and a new arts council.

Next steps on deck for Vibrant Communities

Wonder no more about the next steps in the Vibrant Communities initiative. The ECCVB and the Community Foundation of Elkhart County are working out the final details on the scope of work and organizational structure for implementation of the Vibrant Communities Action Agenda. From there, work will begin to bring the ideas into reality and to start the micro-grant program that will fund community-based arts, culture and other great Things To Do. The first part of 2016 generated excitement throughout Elkhart County as residents gathered to brainstorm the best ideas to develop quality of place in their hometown. In other words, dreaming about those attributes — arts, culture, music, parks, neighborhoods — that they love most and made them want to live there. The great news is that Elkhart County is already making tremendous strides on projects that were spelled out in the Action Agenda, from plans for a dog park in Elkhart to an arts council in Goshen to plans for luxury apartments in Elkhart and Goshen.

By the numbers

5,864: Number of jobs created by the hospitality industry in Elkhart County in 2015, according to a study by Certec Inc.

Hot takes: The latest and the greatest

— It’s been called the worst-kept secret in Elkhart, but the plans for a world-class natatorium and community center in downtown Elkhart at the former YMCA are coming into focus. That building will be torn down and in its place will rise a glittering facility that is expected to be a draw regionally and nationally for residents and visitors. — If you’re looking to hop on the bicycling/walking bandwagon but not sure how to start, a new guide being developed by the ECCVB will be a great resource. It should be available next year around the time when the winter weather breaks and we can look forward to spring and summer. — Feasibility studies have been commissioned to examine development possibilities for a number of enticing projects around Elkhart County. Such as? An indoor waterpark on the north side of Elkhart, an outlet mall in Elkhart and an expanded RV campground/event facility at the RV Hall of Fame.

Terry T. Mark is the director of communications and public relations for the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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