Cannelton seeks revitalization ideas

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Planners begin work under $30,000 grant

Managing Editor


CANNELTON – Planners who met with Cannelton officials and residents said they want to come up with ideas that will spur development in the city and reflect its unique character.

Joann Green, principal for the Landstory Landscape Architecture company and Stuart Savka of Triad Associates, both based in Indianapolis, described their intentions at a meeting in City Hall Feb. 25. Including city officials, 21 people had gathered to hear what might arise from a $30,000 planning grant from the state’s Office of Community and Rural Affairs. It is intended to set the stage for a downtown-revitalization effort that will cost the city $5,000 in matching funds. Once the plan is in place, the city will be able to apply for funding to implement it. That implementation may come in stages as funding becomes available.

Savka said in introductory comments efforts were launched last year, with some ideas discussed in April, but the planners had to await the grant award. Mayor Mary Snyder announced in January it had been received the month before. 

“Now we’re able to start,” Savka said at last month’s meeting, “and they give you a short time-table, as it is, so we’ve really got to hone in on this and get through and hammer down the details to get you a finished work product that will enable you to take it to the next step, which is the construction. From there, you’ll be able to do the improvements.”

A committee would determine those improvements, he added. His company is involved in many types of projects, and input from citizens generally comes in those associated with raising rates, he also said. “This is a unique type of project. This really involves you folks.”

“We hit the ground running and actually have started doing some research,” Green said, adding the available resources preclude developing a plan for the entire down town area, so the focus will be on Washington Street, often referred to as Main Street.

She said she planned to visit the city again to walk its downtown streets and take pictures.

“We don’t do cookie-cutter plans,” she said, “hence the name of our firm, Landstory. We like to delve in to the stories of communities and translate … and interpret those stories through our design. What that means for Cannelton, I’m not sure right now because we haven’t gotten there yet.”

Attributes such as the city’s utilities and distances between buildings will be examined, she said.

“We want to see what’s here that we can work with. We want to be sensible about our design,” she continued. “We also want to look at ways to, certainly, improve what’s here … in such a way that will attract new development.”

Her company did some research before submitting a proposal, but will make more visits to the city’s library and the county museum, located in the old county courthouse nearby, to learn more before developing the plan.

In learning what they had already, Savka noted the planners found that the Can-Clay clay-pipe company distributes its products throughout the Midwest, including decorative chimney caps that could enhance the bases of streetlight poles, for example. 

“They’re really beautiful elements,” Green added, and could be used “as fence posts, as trash receptacles … that’s just one example, and we may find out it’s not going to work out. The point is, that’s the way we approach these kinds of projects, to do something that really tells and says something about the history of a place, maybe it’s an important person, maybe it’s a group of important people that we want to commemorate through interpretive signs.”

Sidewalk treatments, crosswalks, lighting, pavement, traffic circulation and parking will be among subjects of their research, which would take a month at most, she said. While that’s under way, Triad workers would undertake a market assessment to determine Cannelton’s needs from a development standpoint, she said.

“Before we start coming up with ideas, we want to hear from you folks first,” she added. “We want to hear from the community.”

Resident Ralph Terry obliged her.

“I have some ideas,” he said. Among them, bump-outs along city sidewalks should be made more maintenance-free, perhaps by filling them with stamped concrete and inserting large flower planters. The sidewalk extensions, which protrude into Washington Street, have been controversial because they reduce available parking and except during concerted efforts, have fallen into disuse and become unsightly. City officials have considered removing them.

Terry also suggested name-stamped pavers used in some bump-outs be incorporated elsewhere, putting a mural on the city side of the floodwall, adding more street lights and increasing their brightness. The mayor told him current lights will need to be replaced because “they’re so old we can’t get parts for them.”

“We want to remain Cannelton,” Snyder said when Green asked about the desired overall look. “We’re not trying to be a Tell City, Rockport or any of that. We want to remain Cannelton. We’re a river town.”

“I think that’s one of the things that we do as a team that stands out,” Green replied, “is tailor our design decisions … to create a unique place.” Much more goes into the process than picking various elements from a catalog, she added.

Some communities want to retain their traditional look. Others want to maintain their historic structures while adopting a more progressive appearance, Green said. “That’s a little trickier, because we don’t want to get 25 years down the line and have the community look back and say, ‘oh, yeah, can’t you tell that was done in 2015, or whatever.’ ”

Just like redesigning a living room in a home, she suggested the city should determine a style. The companies’ representatives will present a plan, which, when approved, will not lead to a construction-document phase, Green emphasized. 

“This is going to pave the way, so to speak, for you to be eligible for funding to go ahead and move forward with an implementation project,” she explained. The overall plan will include cost estimates, and “we’ll work with you to figure out what’s the first project that you want to tackle; what makes sense?”

Any utility issues that exist might affect what can be done and when, she continued. Work may need to be split into two or more phases to be completed over years, and each will include cost estimates.

Green said she enjoys living in a city’s downtown area and added that she’s “not a fan of suburban development.”

“I love urban living and I love what downtowns can do,” she said. “There’s so much infrastructure and there’s so much potential in some of these downtowns … what’s wrong with putting a CVS in an old building (or) putting a nice retail outlet in an older building? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Those kinds of things are done on the East Coast, they’re done on the West Coast, and it’s time for Indiana to step up to the plate and realize it can be done here.”

Some officials, in small towns and big cities alike, put too many signs, lights, benches, trash receptacles, bicycle racks and hanging pots into their streetscapes, “and they’re all great, but sometimes it gets to be a little much,” Green added. 

“Less is more … is our motto as a firm,” she said, adding that the streetscape shouldn’t stand out beyond the city’s historic architecture.

When they present initial designs, “we want to hear either ‘you’re on target’ or ‘you’re not, maybe you can tweak this a little bit or tweak that a little bit,’ and we’ll come back with a final plan and present it.” The preliminary plan will reflect a theme rather than getting into detailed engineering.

Further meetings will include a public hearing before state approval is sought, Savka said.

Snyder said a steering committee will include Brandi Hess, Rob Moskos and other members of the Cannelton Foundation.

Both planners addressed partnering with nearby communities. Green said one of three neighboring towns she was aware of, perhaps in Michigan, was known for its flea markets. All three got together and decided to have a “huge flea market festival once a year, and it draws people from all over the state.”

City officials at the meeting suggested foundation members and city councilmen could solicit ideas from people throughout the city. 

Hess works at the University of Southern Indiana.

“A couple of years ago, they built onto the University Center,” she said, “and used Can-Clay pipes as big columns … and they also used these square tiles … as a wall treatment. They were using resources from the state of Indiana in unique and unusual ways.”

A theater being built now will also feature Can-Clay products, she added before explaining, “we were built on coal, but sandstone is a big part of our history, too.” 

As Green fished for more ideas, Terry noted a ferry service used to transport people between Cannelton and Hawesville, Ky. The city’s boat ramp, walking trail, park, old-courthouse county museum and the status of Myers Grade School as the oldest continuously operating public school were also mentioned.

The mayor said Red Anderson was unable to attend the meeting but passed along some suggestions.

“Years ago, we used to have a lookout (point) at the old cemetery,” Snyder said. “A lot of people visited there just to look out over the city and the river and Kentucky … he said it would be really great if we could somehow put another lookout there.”

“More and more, old cemeteries are being used as destination points,” Green said.

She and representatives of Triad planned to visit the city again to see its features.

Hess said Wednesday morning she wanted “to encourage people to submit feedback and have their voices heard.” 

Residents with ideas for a revitalization of Cannelton’s downtown area may contact members of the city council or Cannelton Foundation or e-mail suggestions to jgreen@lands toryla.com. A six-question survey was being added to the foundation’s Web site, cannelton.org as this was written.