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By VINCE LUECKE
TELL CITY – While it may not be a building boom just yet, Tell City’s new visitor center, soon to be completed, is already helping to promote other projects in the city’s downtown, city leaders and others said this week. It’s also helping to replicate much of the look and perhaps some of the functionality of the city’s former train depot.
Built at a cost of more than $1 million all funded by grants, a forgivable loan and proceeds from the city’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program, the visitors center will provide a new home for the convention and visitors bureau and will include a meeting room for community gatherings. It will also offer retail space for goods made by local artisans.
It will be completed in coming weeks with an open house and grand opening likely this spring. Details haven’t been finalized and the city is still working to use as much funding as it can on the project.
However, the building has already helped build interest and promote development nearby. The city’s mayor said the visitors center was designed to do just that.
“The visitors center project was always more than just a single-phase project, but an anchor to revitalize that and other areas,” Mayor Barbara Ewing said this week.
When promoting the project, Ewing told members of the city council that the city could “sit back and wait for development” that might take place or it could be proactive and promote growth.
“We chose to be forward thinking and I believe it’s paying off,” she said.
Other development is under way within easy walking distance of the visitors center. The former Glowroom Tavern, originally home to Tell City National Bank and vacant for more than a year, will open soon as a sports bar.
The building had been an eyesore on Main Street before it was purchased by Indiana Landmarks.
The nonprofit preservation group invested in a new roof and guttering that helped stop damage to the brick exterior. The new buyers have renovated the building’s interior. Covenants conveyed with the deed provide guidelines that will protect the building’s historic value to the city.
Other projects under way include renovations to the former Humboldt Street Tell City Fire Station by City Councilman Chris Cail. He is leasing the building, sold by sealed bid late least year, from his brother and plans to open a print shop this year.
Cail said the new visitors center played a role in his plans. Cail owns other property in and near the downtown and believes the area’s future is bright.
“It’s exciting to see things happening. I think there will be more,” he said.
New street lights have already been installed in the area and Ewing said there is still interest among private developers to build a new hotel at the corner of Main and Washington streets.
One possible project could see the new visitors center used as a depot.
The center’s proximity to the Hoosier Southern Railroad could, one day, lead to regular excursion train rides to other areas, including attractions in Spencer County.
City and tourism officials have already met with their counterparts in Spencer County on possible partnerships.
There are still several ways the city’s downtown can continue to develop in new locations. There are lots for sale in the 500 block of Seventh Street and the city owns land across the street.
A new comprehensive plan offers a numbers of suggestions for the property, including housing and retail space.
Cail said there are also opportunities for developing bed-and-breakfasts and new storefronts in the area.
Ewing agreed and pointed to preliminary efforts by a downtown committee to promote a facade-improvement program that could allow property owners to upgrade their buildings. The city could provide seed money to the effort, which would still require formal city approval.
Tell City was recently accepted into the state’s Main Street Program.
A number of years ago the city created a development zone that includes much of the downtown and allows for property owners who make improvements to seek abatements of property taxes on the upgrades.
Those existing programs, as well as new ones, could provide incentives to new and future owners and developers.
“I think everyone would agree there are lots of opportunities in our city,” Cail said. It just takes work.”