Chelsea Schneider, Municipal Innovations Specialist
Positioning itself as a hub of innovation in rural Indiana, Rushville is launching a series of projects in a bid to circumvent population decline and attract more residents and businesses to the community.
City leaders expect the projects, including a business incubator, senior housing and a gateway plaza, will revitalize Downtown Rushville and serve as a blueprint for other rural municipalities.
“We want to be transformative for Rushville,” said Brian Sheehan, the city’s director of special projects and community development. “But more importantly, we want to be transferrable and be able to share with other communities our size or smaller and say ‘Here are some of the things you can do to make a big difference in your community.’”
The efforts received a key boost in 2016 when Rushville was designated as a Stellar Community. With the award, the city will receive an influx of state funds for community development projects.
But the city hasn’t stopped there.
Beyond Stellar, Rushville recently opened an industrial park. Work also is underway on a new farmers market location, and the city is home to a growing concert series, “Live by the Levee,” where musicians play in an amphitheater designed to look like a covered bridge.
“The end goal is to provide a community with the amenities that young families are looking at, so we can begin to reverse the trend of population decline, and more importantly start to grow,” Sheehan said.
Mayor Michael Pavey wants the city’s renewed focus on quality of life to make the next generation of Rushville residents more competitive – both within Indiana and globally.
“I hope it allows moving to Rushville or moving back to Rushville to be an option. In the past, returning home or moving into a rural setting has not been an option,” Pavey said. “When we were able to get out of the weeds and look at our community from a very high level, it became apparent that we had infrastructure issues and quality-of-life issues. When we started focusing on Stellar, we really decided that if we are going to make any changes then these are the big topics we need to address.”
As technology allows more Hoosiers to work from home, Rushville becomes even more viable, Pavey said, because employees aren’t tied to a job’s location. That gives them unprecedented freedom to choose where they want to live, and Rushville offers a close-knit and safe community as a leader in rural Indiana, Pavey said.
Here are the top projects going on in Rushville:
Tying Rushville’s past to its future
In 1940, the city’s Durbin Hotel served as Wendell Willkie’s campaign headquarters when he ran for president. Through Stellar, the hotel and another historic property will be transformed into affordable senior housing. The “Campaign Quarters” project will serve as a draw to bring more residents downtown, Sheehan said.
Encouraging an entrepreneurial spirit
The city is tearing down a vacant building to construct a new multi-use facility that will feature a restaurant, meat market and business incubator. Construction should start on “The Overlook” this year.
“We’re hoping to create a more entrepreneurial environment that allows businesses to start up,” Sheehan said. “Sometimes the hardest thing around here is finding professional space.”
When neighboring buildings were torn down, it left a gap in an otherwise vibrant portion of Rushville’s downtown. In its place, the city is constructing two buildings to support the city’s farmers market by accommodating bathrooms and storage. Behind the buildings will be space for farmers market vendors and to host other downtown events.