Chelsea Schneider, Municipal Innovations Specialist
Bordered by concrete sidewalks instead of a lush lawn, Bluffton’s courthouse stands as a unique testament to the frugality of the city’s founders.
The courthouse is one of very few in Indiana without a grounds. That’s because Bluffton’s leaders at the time only gave to Wells County the land needed to build the structure – and not a square inch more, Bluffton Mayor Ted Ellis said.
More than 100 years later, the goal is to “un-landlock” the courthouse by adding greenspace around the historic sandstone building. The city is partnering with community group Bluffton NOW! to make the project a reality.
Community leaders hope the transformative project will bring more people, and in turn, more retail to downtown. Along with adding a lawn, a new event space is planned. The group is raising $1 million for the improvements, with hopes to begin construction in 2018.
The project will place a greater emphasis on arts and cultural offerings, said Michael Lautzenheiser, Jr., president of Bluffton NOW!, the city’s main street organization.
“The creation of the Market Street Plaza would be a natural location for events of all types, which will bring people into the downtown,” Lautzenheiser said. “With more people coming to downtown, more business opportunities will arise.”
Talks of the project have already prompted a boom in building maintenance and an increased interest in downtown buildings that are for sale and rent.
“We’re just trying to do what they should have done a century ago,” Ellis said of the courthouse project. “I look at downtown as the front porch of the community. The front porch is the inviting part of the house.”
The courthouse also will be connected by trail, helping to fulfil Ellis’ goal of connecting every city park and school with a walkable, bikeable trail.
And it will increase greenspace – another one of the mayor’s goals.
“It’s good for a healthy community because plants and greenery cleanse the air for one thing. Second, it has a calming effect on a community and it just looks nicer, too,” Ellis said.
Bluffton also boasts an award-winning parks department and is a major contributor to the around 250 events planned each year in the city. Upcoming activities include an underwater egg hunt; Slip & Slide where the city turns its snow hill into a giant slip and slide by melting together rolls and rolls of plastic; and Stuff & Fluff where participants can stuff plush animals.