Pendleton turns to past to revitalize its downtown

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Pendleton's downtown commercial district is looking to the past to build a better, more prosperous future.

In September, the town 25 miles northeast of Indianapolis was approved for the state's branch of Main Street, a project of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, aimed at helping communities revitalize their downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts.

Pendleton's downtown commercial district covers roughly 12 blocks around the intersection of State Street and Pendleton Avenue, bordered by Water Street to the north, Elm Street to the south, Main Street to the west and Broadway to the east.

Many of those structures "are unique physical expressions of our culture, history and the people who built our town," board member and Ball State architectural archivist Carol Street told The Herald Bulletin. "They offer a unique heritage that could only take place here in Pendleton."

That's one reason the town was a natural fit for the Main Street program, said Lisa Floyd, board secretary and executive director of the South Madison Community Foundation.

"Our hope and expectation is that it will add another dimension of the hometown feeling we already have in Pendleton," Floyd said. "Our goal is to simply build on the attributes that are already in place and expand the opportunities for residents and visitors to experience our downtown opportunities."

That would likely include preservation projects for many of the downtown historic structures. Much of the town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

"There is an emphasis on preserving those buildings as close to their original designs because they are well-designed, lovely buildings," Street said.

But a revitalized downtown could also "attract more business activity and perhaps more residential dwellers to available spaces in the downtown area," said Main Street Pendleton board president Jack Wilson.

Indiana Main Street communities saw more than $130 million invested last year, and netted 570 new jobs and 16 new construction projects.

The Main Street approach is four-pronged: Communities organize commercial district stake-holders, promote, design and restructure the downtown economy by strengthening existing businesses and recruiting new ones.

For most Indiana Main Street communities, that's also meant rehabilitating the facades of standing buildings — 241 in 2011 — with fresh paint, repaired molding and other upgrades.

Many projects, like new awnings, could be done for very little money, said Tim McClintick, the town's assistant planning director and Main Street Pendleton board treasurer.

But "we're not here to mandate anything," he said. This doesn't affect downtown residences and business owners can opt out, if they want.

The towns in the program are responsible for managing, planning and funding. McClintick said the first step will be applying for grants, which Wilson said could range from a few thousand dollars to as much as $250,000.

"We believe that Pendleton is well suited to take advantage of these resources to build on the ambiance we already enjoy," Wilson said. "And hopefully help the community benefit from increased business activity."

McClintick said there's no date yet on when the first project would start, but he'd like to see something by spring.

"It's a gradual process," he said. "It's evolving."

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