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Contest Countdown

Madison awaits decision on winners of America’s Best Communities contest

Judges to announce winners
on April 19 at event in Denver


 
(April 2017)
Read previous Don Ward columns!
Don Ward

It has been 2½ years since the city of Madison first entered the America’s Best Communities contest, but that journey will come to an end in late April when the judges make their final decision on the winners from the eight remaining communities.
In April 2015, Madison became one of 50 quarterfinalists, each receiving $50,000 to develop a Strategic Plan for their respective communities. Madison hired Ratio Architects, a consulting firm, to develop its plan. Madison then advanced to the semifinals in January 2016, becoming one of only 15 cities remaining in the contest.
A year ago this month, Madison was honored again by being selected as one of eight finalists from more than 400 communities nationwide who first entered the contest. That honor came with a $100,000 cash prize to implement its Strategic Plan for the community. The other seven finalists in the competition include Chisago Lakes Area, Minn.; Darrington-Arlington, Wash.; Huntington, W. Va.; Lake Havasu City, Ariz.; Statesboro, Ga.; Tulatin, Ore.; and Valley County-Meadows Valley, Idaho.
The Madison ABC team chose to pursue a plan to join the hilltop with the historic downtown district via a bicycle and pedestrian path by upgrading and re-opening Hatcher Hill. The plan also included façade, sidewalk and curb improvements to Mulberry Street as part of the connection from the bottom of Hatcher Hill to the riverfront. The Connector also connects with the existing Heritage Trail, a bicycle and pedestrian path that was created several years ago that runs from the Ohio River up to the Madison State Hospital grounds.

Photo by Don Ward

The recently upgraded and re-opened Hatcher Hill as a bicycle and pedestrian path in Madison, Ind., has been a hit with residents. It is part of the America’s Best Communities project and connects the hilltop with downtown.

In September 2016, the city received a $10,000 “Downtown Enhancement” matching grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs to help fund the Mulberry Street upgrades. That grant was matched by another $15,000 from the city coffers ($10,000) and the Madison Main Street Program ($5,000), with the city to provide in-kind support.
In the past year, the city has repaired washed out drainage ditches and paved Hatcher Hill, then subsequently held community-wide events to promote its use. The most recent such event was held on March 18 when the ABC team held a scavenger hunt on Hatcher Hill.
The event attracted around 80 participants, organizer said.
“The idea of these events was to get people out on Hatcher Hill and Mulberry Street to see the improvements and to begin using the Connector,” said Andrew Forrester, City of Madison Community Relations Manager and an ABC team member.
Feedback and photos from residents were collected at these events to help document those activities and the impact the Madison Connector has had on the community. The information has since been included in a final written report that was due to the judges by March 29.
Three ABC team members – Valecia Crisafulli of Envision Jefferson County (economic development group), Lindsay Bloos, executive director of the Madison Area Chamber of Commerce, and Forrester – on April 19 will travel to Denver, where they will make a final non-judged presentation of the plan to judges and other team representatives. That afternoon, the judges are scheduled to announce the contest winners.
“We hope to find the funds to send more of our ABC team members to Denver,” Forrester said. “We are also planning a ‘Watch Party’ back here in Madison, with details to be announced.”
The judges’ announcement will be streamed live on the ABC contest website, he said.
Representatives of the eight finalist communities have been meeting monthly via a webinar to discuss their progress, so they are somewhat familiar with what is going on in the competing cities, Forrester said. “We’re up against a lot of good communities, and they have exciting things going on. But I think it will ultimately come down to how the judges feel we’ve executed our plan.”
Crisafulli says the contest experience has been an overwhelming success for Madison, either way. “Whatever happens, I am really impressed with the way the people of this community have rallied around this plan and supported it in so many ways. It’s been really wonderful support. I feel there is a real commitment to see this Connector Plan go forward no matter what happens out in Denver. Our community leaders want it to go forward. If we get the ABC money, we will be able to do it more quickly.”
The Hatcher Hill and Mulberry Street improvements represent Phase I of the “One Madison Community Revitalization Plan,” Forrester said. It addresses façade improvements to five buildings on Mulberry Street. Nyberg is managing the façade project, drawing from her former experience with the Main Street Program.
Future plans include adding flower pots, benches and trees to Mulberry Street, and adding benches and improved fencing, trash cans and additional signage to Hatcher Hill. Barricades are also planned for the hill to deter motorists from trying to drive up or down the hill, which was permanently closed to motorists in 1986.
Forrester said the team is still meeting with city officials regarding whether to allow golf carts or any motorized vehicles to travel on Hatcher Hill. “It was designed as a bicycle and pedestrian trail, so we are hoping it will remain so, but that is still being discussed.”
Crisafulli said “the trail is a wonderful project because we can involve people from all segments of the community – old and young, and all socio-economic levels. It’s very egalitarian because it’s so inclusive and brings people together in a very special way.
She added, “There has been a sense of pride shown toward this community that is very inspiring. What we see coming out of this contest in terms of pride underscores what is happening here.”
Meantime, the Strategic Plan was combined with elements from an earlier Envision Jefferson County study to create an official Comprehensive Plan for the city of Madison. The City Council unanimously approved this plan, titled ‘One Madison,” during its Sept. 20, 2016, meeting. The vote meant that the city legally adopted the plan, however, it does not bind the city to do the projects or to not change them later, Forrester said. “It simply provides a road map and guidelines for the community,” he said.
It is the first such plan the city has approved in 17 years, the last one being in 1999. Such a plan is necessary for the city to apply for major economic development grants like the Stellar Communities Designation that neighboring cities have received in recent years.
At the March 20 City Council meeting, Madison Mayor Damon Welch announced that the city would be using its newly created Comprehensive Plan to apply for the Stellar Communities Designation. The application is due in late April.
“I believe everything that has happened over the last four or five years has brought us to this point where we’re finally ready to pursue this designation,” Welch said in a statement. “Going through the process will help take us to a new level of success.”
The “One Madison” Comprehensive Plan is viewable at the city of Madison’s Internet website: www.Madison-in.gov.
The America’s Best Communities contest is sponsored by Frontier Communications, DISH, The Weather Channel, CoBank and Madison’s corporate sponsor DST Systems Inc.

For more information on the contest or to watch the announcement of winners on April 19, visit: www.AmericasBestCommunities.com.

• Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout. Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email him at: info@RoundAbout.bz.

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