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Could Wabash win again?

by MACKENZI KLEMANN - mklemann@wabashplaindealer.com

A new approach to the state’s Stellar Communities program means that Wabash may be able to participate a second time.

The Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs has issued new guidelines which stipulate the Stellar program will now operate on a regional basis, rather than on an individual community basis as it has in the past. The regional approach will make past Stellar designees eligible to participate as mentors in the process, an opportunity which local leaders are already investigating.

“(Stellar’s) impact will be (seen) and felt here for years, and I suspect that this will be one of a handful of programs/projects from the last several years here in the city that future generations will be able to point back to as a major change agent for the future of Wabash,” said Keith Gillenwater, president and CEO of the Wabash Business Alliance.

Gillenwater said he has started outreach to “see what partnerships would make the most sense” and make for “a compelling application.”

Discussions at this point are very preliminary, as Gillenwater and Mayor Scott Long said they are still investigating what the program’s new guidelines mean for mentor communities.

“We are encouraging mentorship with the new Stellar program and believe past Stellar finalists and designees are great partners for any region to partner with,” said Melissa Thomas, OCRA communications manager. Thomas said mentor partners would be eligible for grant funding.

Projects funded through Wabash’s first Stellar designation will have until the end of 2018 to bid contracts, but most projects appear as though they will be complete before the end of the year. Those projects funded in part by the program include the Eagles Theatre renovation and construction the Rock City Lofts senior housing complex, as well as streetscape improvements in downtown Wabash and to the Ind. 13/Ind. 15 corridor, which has yet to break ground. Other projects include the Wabash Inclusive Playground, facade improvements and the owner-occupied home improvement program.