Chelsea Schneider, Municipal Innovations Specialist, Aim
Rochester’s downtown is bustling with new eateries and a focus on attracting private investment. So, when a prominent spot near the entrance of the city’s downtown needed sprucing up after a fire destroyed a building – residents took action.
Today, the space features a pocket park welcoming visitors to Downtown Rochester.
“It was truly the community coming together and saying, ‘We don’t want that hole in the gateway into our community,” Rochester Mayor Ted Denton said.
From the pocket park, the downtown has continued to bloom, including a new apartment project and plans to turn an old hardware store into a microbrewery. The city also recently attracted an Illinois company that’s moving to Rochester, following a letter writing campaign that touted Indiana’s business environment.
“I believe that quality of life is certainly important for our millennials and folks in the younger category, but in reality, you have to remember there’s got to be something that brings in an income,” Denton said. “They have to have job opportunities with that also.”
Rochester also is benefiting from a Community Crossings grant, which the city is using to revamp a major street that carries industrial traffic. The state grant is allowing the city to improve and widen the road. The project also includes stormwater drainage, sidewalks and LED lighting.
The grant has been a wonderful opportunity for the city, Denton said.
“We want to continue to upgrade our very, very, very old community,” Denton said. “And a lot of that includes sidewalks and storm sewer situations. We are going to continue down that trail.”
Denton recalled one of the first projects he did as mayor. It involved adding a sidewalk into an area of town that desperately needed a safer option for pedestrians. He said though it was a relatively small project, residents were shown things could be done to improve the community.
“You have to present the right demeanor because perception is everything,” Denton said. “That’s why it’s important when you first come into Rochester there’s a nice pocket park, not a hole or a blue tarp. You are putting your best foot forward.”