Quest for development grant sparks infighting in Nashville

July 6, 2014

The popular tourist town of Nashville, Ind., could get millions in federal money for community development. But not everyone there is happy with how the application process to be a Stellar Community has gone.

Nashville is one of six finalists for the designation, which brings money and support to help spur economic development. Since 2010, six Indiana communities have received awards ranging from nearly $10 million to $20 million.

Residents say they support the program, but some contend local leaders pursued it without input from the community. The Herald-Times reported petitions are being circulated in Brown County asking the state to table the application until next year so the entire community can weigh in on which projects to pursue.

"It all sounds great, and we are very much in favor of the Stellar program, but it is supposed to involve the whole community," said Marilyn Rudd, a longtime merchant.

Rudd contends a core group of people directed the proposal that was submitted to state officials without consulting many shopkeepers and residents.

Nashville attorney Wanda Jones has filed two complaints with the state public access counselor claiming the Stellar committee meetings violated the state's open meetings law. She said the door to the county annex was locked during one meeting so no one could gain access.

Nashville Town Council President Bob Kirlin says no one was left out and denies decisions were made in private meetings.

"We are comfortable in everything we have done. This has been a very open process all the way through," he said.

The town's application identifies nine projects the town would pay for with Stellar funds. They include completion of trails, upgrades to the Brown County Playhouse, rehabilitation of 14 houses that detract from the town's quaint flavor and making the county courthouse accessible to the disabled.

Residents who oppose the application process question a plan to develop a streetscape that would affect the historic 1872 building that houses the Hob Nob Corner restaurant. Rudd's family has owned the building for 85 years.

A petition that seeks to retain the area's eclectic charm says there is no need to revitalize the area because its sidewalks already comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Nashville's unique character is based upon its history, the kaleidoscope of old homes and shops which make up the shopping districts, the quaint alleys, and the overall sense that time has passed us by. We believe this atmosphere is the heart and core of Nashville, and do not want to lose that unique aspect of our town," the petition states.

Alex Harker, state spokesman for the Stellar project, said concerns about the process are handled at the local level "and do not affect a community's chances of being designated Stellar."

Awards are expected to be announced in early August.

The other finalists are Decatur, Huntingburg, Marion, Mount Vernon and Wabash.


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