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State's 200th birthday bash next year expected to boost tourism statewide

November 7, 2015
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(Rendering courtesy of Indiana Bicentennial Commission)

The state flag and a park system are lasting legacies of Indiana’s centennial celebration in 1916.

Indiana leaders raised what’s now an iconic blue flag with a gold torch and staked out McCormick’s Creek and Turkey Run state parks, which became the first in a system that a century later boasts nearly three dozen lakes, reservoirs, recreational areas and parks.

Today, leaders are hoping projects for Indiana’s bicentennial celebration—including a new state park inn, a downtown Indianapolis art plaza and hundreds of smaller efforts statewide—will leave just as big an impact.

While Indiana doesn’t officially turn 200 until Dec. 11, 2016, preparations to mark the historic occasion have been under way since 2011, and state leaders plan to kick off a year-long celebration at the Statehouse on Statehood Day this Dec. 11.

In formulating their plans, officials studied bicentennial and sesquicentennial celebrations in Ohio, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Arizona, but are promising new wrinkles.

“The commonality of all the bicentennials and sesquicentennials we looked at was to celebrate lasting legacies,” said Perry Hammock, Indiana Bicentennial Commission executive director. “And we’re doing that. But we haven’t found any other state that has celebrated with the number of projects involving public-private partnerships that this state has. The grass-roots element this state has achieved is pretty spectacular.”

The partnerships involve every county, city and town—big and small—and have resulted in about 700 projects of varying magnitude, Hammock said.

The happenings across the state—like a collection of painted bison in North Manchester, the Pike County Barn Quilt Trail, improvements to the Wabash and Erie Canal Interpretive Center in Delphi, and the “Indiana in 200 Objects” exhibit at the Indiana State Museum—are likely to be a drawing card for not just Hoosiers, but also out-of-state visitors, tourism experts said.

“There’s a lot of state pride in these types of celebrations, but the festivals, historical re-enactments, plays and other happenings … as well as the things like historical artwork and monuments that are left behind, will be attractions for visitors from surrounding states during 2016 and for years to come,” said Liping Cai, Purdue University tourism professor.

“It will be a wonderful year to wander Indiana,” Hammock said. “Next year should create a big boost for Indiana tourism.”

Next month’s Statehouse kickoff will be attended by more than 500 schoolchildren from across the state. High school show choirs and color guards in historic costumes will perform, as will the winner of a fourth-grade essay contest. All 566 towns will be given a bicentennial flag—which was unveiled Nov. 2. The commemorative flags are also for sale at the Indiana Historical Bureau in the Indiana State Library.

A high-tech torch designed by Purdue University students and their instructors will be used for a statewide relay. The torch also will be unveiled at the kickoff.

The year-long celebration will end with three days of events Dec. 9-11, 2016.

A massive Statehouse celebration is planned for Dec. 9, 2016, a Friday. A gala and dinner is set for the next night at the Indiana State Fairgrounds’ Indiana Farmers Coliseum, and on Dec. 11, the fairgrounds will host a full day of musical acts, speeches and essays.

Between those bookend celebrations, a seemingly endless stream of projects and events are planned for 2016.

“The entire bicentennial effort is centered on two guiding efforts,” Hammock said. “We want this to be a grass-roots initiative that celebrates the bicentennial widely—all throughout the state. And we don’t want it to just be a big party, but a chance to leave a lasting legacy.”

Key state projects, events

Along those lines, the bicentennial has spawned several major state-run projects.

The General Assembly this year approved $24 million for a new archives facility where the state’s two original constitutions are stored, along with other historical documents; $2 million for the Bicentennial Plaza on the west side of the Statehouse; and $2 million for an education center at the Indiana State Library for schoolchildren on field trips.

Another project, the Indiana Bicentennial Torch Relay, received $1.6 million. The relay will begin in Corydon on Sept. 9 and will run through every Indiana county—and be transported by a hovercraft in Terre Haute, home to a large hovercraft manufacturing facility—before concluding its 2,300-mile sojourn on Oct. 15 at the Statehouse.

The relay was created to honor Hoosiers who have “demonstrated exceptional public service, achievement, acts of heroism and/or volunteer service to their neighborhood, community, region or state,” Hammock said. More than 1,800 torchbearers will be selected. 

Construction on the Bicentennial Plaza began this spring, and the Robert D. Orr Plaza has already been closed to vehicular traffic. Officials expect to have Senate Avenue from Washington to Ohio streets permanently closed to vehicles by Thanksgiving. The plaza is scheduled to be completed by December 2016.

Designed by Ohio-based MKSK Studios, it will have an interactive fountain in the center, spaces representing Indiana’s 92 counties to the south, and a sculpture to the north designed to be reminiscent of the state flag’s torch. Officials said the goal is to make the Statehouse’s west side more pedestrian-friendly.

The education center will feature a bus turnaround zone, an indoor connector to the Statehouse, and interactive space where children can learn about Indiana government and history. Construction is set to begin early next year.

The new archive will not get under way until the middle of next year and won’t likely be complete until 2017.

Gov. Mike Pence hopes to raise more than $50 million through long-term cell tower leases to pay for most or all of those projects. According to Pence’s proposal, the state’s 310 cell towers are underused and not realizing their full commercial potential. The Indiana Finance Authority is in the process of contacting wireless carriers and other businesses that might be interested in leasing.

More in the works

The Bicentennial Inn at Potato Creek State Park, in far-northern Indiana, was planned somewhat outside the bicentennial commission’s work, and its design still “is very much in the early planning stage,” said Marty Benson, an Indiana Department of Natural Resources spokesman.

The site, size, number of rooms and other details for the inn in St. Joseph County aren’t determined, Benson said. The General Assembly in April earmarked $24 million for the inn, which will be the first built at an Indiana state park since 1939.

“It’s possible, but by no means certain, the new inn could be open by the end of 2016,” Benson said. “Normally, a project like this would take more than a year to design and construct, but in special circumstances—like the bicentennial celebration—it could be done faster.”

Besides its major initiatives, the Bicentennial Commission is heading up a handful of smaller state-funded projects.

A 248-page coffee-table book, “Indiana 200: A Celebration of the Hoosier State,” was published in October and costs $39.95. It includes 600 photos, prose, poetry and bicentennial commentary.

Two bicentennial medallions—a 1-3/4-inch version and a 3-inch version—will go on sale next month. Hammock said they will be priced below $13.

The commission also has approved close to 700 locally funded projects—at least one in every county: 190 nature conservation projects, 165 historical celebration projects, 205 community involvement projects, and 129 youth and education projects.

An example of a nature conservation project is a new city park in Vincennes. Historical celebration projects include restoration of the first fire truck used in Orleans and erection of a statue of Col. Isaac White in White County.

Community involvement projects include local festivals, pageants and plays. In Richmond, where the city’s largest employer was once the Starr Piano Co., residents will try to set a world record for continuous piano playing. Greensburg will restage a centennial pageant that was rained out in 1916.

Youth and education projects include Ball State University’s creating a tablet-based curriculum for fourth-graders studying state history.

Natural legacy

To build on the idea that gave birth to the state park system in 1916, the state has formed the Bicentennial Nature Trust in the Department of Natural Resources.

The trust has allocated $20 million for land acquisition and the Lilly Endowment Inc. has kicked in another $10 million. The state invited municipalities and charitable organizations to apply for grant money for conservation projects, provided they match the funds.

To date, $26 million of the $30 million has been allotted, and $35.1 million in matching funds has been raised.

“We’re raising $1.35 in matching funds for every $1 from the Bicentennial Nature Trust,” said Mark Becker, the trust’s program director. “That’s even better than our one-to-one goal, so we’re very pleased.”

Ninety real estate transactions for bicentennial-related nature projects have closed, encompassing more than 13.5 square miles—or about 8,700 acres. Twenty-eight percent of those projects will be owned and operated by the DNR, while 72 percent will be owned and operated by municipalities, land trusts and trail groups.

The state retains a “conservation easement” on the parcels not owned by the state, “to ensure they’re maintained for conservation purposes,” Becker said.

The goal is to have some type of bicentennial nature or recreation area within 20 miles of every Hoosier, Hammock said.

“We would like to have a project in every county. We’re already in 64 counties,” Becker said. “I feel very good about the geographic distribution. The idea was to really build on the gift of the state park system that was created 100 years ago, and I think we’re doing that.”•

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