Goshen News, Goshen, IN

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September 14, 2012

City staff works to turn contaminated sites into usable land

GOSHEN — Old manufacturing sites and brownfield cleanup aren’t the typical topics for breakfast conversation, but that didn’t stop Wake Up! Goshen.

The quarterly program, held by the Goshen Chamber of Commerce, illustrated the current status of brownfield projects in Goshen through a presentation by city brownfield coordinator Becky Hershberger.

Brownfield sites are former industrial or commercial sites that may have problems with potential development because of possible environmental contamination, according to Hershberger, but she has been working for the last seven years to help reclaim these properties and make them viable for redevelopment, she told the audience.

“I don’t do this every day,” she said about public speaking. “I spend most of my time trudging through construction sites, with dirt in my shoes or water up to my knees... The sites everyone else turns away from become my projects.”

Hershberger highlighted two main brownfield projects, the millrace redevelopment and the Ninth Street industrial corridor project.

Hershberger spent the majority of her presentation walking the attendees through the long process of the millrace redevelopment project, which she said began with the Chamber of Commerce and a study through Ball State. Chamber President David Daugherty said the study was presented at a Wake Up! Goshen event in 1985.

“The millrace site is 22 acres to redevelop,” Hershberger told the group. “There are not very many other communities that have this opportunity, and we see it as a gem.”

The Redevelopment Commission members began looking at the sites for the millrace around 2005, and since then, a lot of reclamation work has gone into making the spot viable for redevelopment, Hershberger said.

Through $3.848 million in grants and other funds, the land surrounding the millrace will begin, and already have begun, to attract developers and small businesses, she said. Out of that money, $785,000 came from tax increment financing funds, meaning that for every dollar of local money spent, $4 in grant money have gone to the project.

“Because of the work we’ve done on site, someone wants to come in and invest in the community,” Hershberger said of the old NIPSCO building, one of the sites along the millrace. “They want to add to the community.”

That building is set to be repurposed as a restaurant.

Daugherty said the event was very successful, with around 65 attendees and a lot of good conversation about brownfields before, during and after Hershberger’s talk.

“People were very positive about Becky’s talk,” Daugherty said. “They like the community involvement... The talk really was successful. It gave out a good history of the sites, as well as current status and goals for the future.”

Mayor Allan Kauffman, who introduced Hershberger to the crowd, said that the relationship between the city of Goshen and the Chamber of Commerce is rare, and should be valued.

“We say our mission is to work every day to make Goshen a better place than what we inherited,” he said. “We couldn’t do a lot of that work with the Redevelopment Commission (who is overseeing the city’s brownfield work) without the Chamber.”

Economic outlook

Also at the event was an economic update from Chad Stoltzfus, senior vice president at Lake City Bank. He said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the state of the housing industry, and that other economic areas are stable.

“Interest rates appear they are going to remain stable for the next few years,” he said. “Stable at historically low rates.”

Stoltzfus said that while unemployment rates are still not at good percentages, the economy will hopefully start to expand again, spurring more job creation.

“The numbers that we’re looking at are better, but we’re calling it ‘cautiously optimistic,’” he said. “It’s hard to predict.”

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Goshen City Council member Dixie Robinson is asking residents to make an effort to clean up their yards this spring. The city’s Dial-A-Truck program is available to haul trash away. Do you think there are more unsightly properties in Goshen this year than five years ago?

Yes, I have noticed more problem properties
No, I have not noticed more problems
I think the problems are about the same as always
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