Dunkirk is Again Seeking Stellar

Ray Cooney – Editor
The Commercial Review

Dunkirk continues to try for state grant money, hoping a break comes its way.

The city turned in its application Monday for $2.6 million in grants and tax credits from the Stellar Communities program administered by the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA). This marks the third year it has tried for the grant.

The projects involved in the proposal are mostly unchanged from each of the last two applications. A senior housing complex, relocation of the library and glass museum, downtown lighting and Safe Routes to Schools are the key features as part of Dunkirk’s long-term revitalization plans.

“These projects are key to those plans,” said Mayor Dan Watson. “We feel like the only way we’re going to get things started downtown is if we can keep working on these plans.”

The most significant changes to the five-page application are in how it was presented.

It touts Dunkirk as a “do-it-yourself community” that has already separated sewers and completed renovations to its water and wastewater treatment plants. Also highlighted are the efforts of Dunkirk Industrial Development Corporation and Dunkirk Investment Group, the renovation of the Todd Opera House façade and elimination of blighted properties.

The application notes that the projects involved are ready to begin, with the city already in control of properties and environmental evaluations complete.

“I tried to outline and make it really easy for them to see we’ve run right up to the edge, and now we’re stuck,” said Jay County community development director Ami Huffman. “So they need to help us with that next step.

“There’s not going to be very many communities their size that have a new water plant, new wastewater plant, new water mains, a group … investing their own money and time into the buildings to recruit businesses there. That’s huge. We don’t have the infrastructure needs. We’ve taken care of all of that on our own.”

The largest component of the proposal is Crown Crossing Senior Housing Development, which the city has been working toward along with Buckeye Community Hope Foundation of Dunkirk. The estimated $4.3 million complex that would be built on the west side of Main Street between Center Street and the railroad tracks would include 28 units, a courtyard, social hall, kitchen, laundry room, library, computer room and administrative office space.

The city would also like to move the library and glass museum from its current site on Washington Street to the Stewart Brothers Building on Main Street downtown. DIDC has already invested $180,000 to make the building structurally sound, and addition upgrades and relocation are projected to cost just under $2 million.

Installing downtown lighting is expected to cost $531,159, and paths and trails for Safe Routes to School  are projected at $180,000.

Dunkirk is asking for $1.5 million in funding from OCRA for the library move, $501,360 in tax credits from Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority for the senior housing complex and a total of $574,859 from Indiana Department of Transportation for lighting and safe routes.

Dunkirk has missed out on making the finalist list in each of its previous two attempts to earn the grant funding. Portland was a finalist in 2011, when Greencastle and North Vernon were selected as winners.

Other Stellar recipients were Princeton and Delphi in 2012, Bedford and Richmond in 2013 and Huntingburg and Wabash last year.

OCRA has changed its format this year, separating applicants into municipalities of more than and less than 6,000 residents. Watson said he hopes that will help his community, which has a population of 2,362.

Three finalists for each category will be selected April 2, and the winners will be announced at the state fair in August.

“There’s a lot of good things I think that are happening,” said Watson. “And if we could just get a break and get one of these major programs going, I think we could start seeing some positive change. We just need that one break.”