Chelsea Schneider, Municipal Innovations Specialist, Aim
Culver is expected to see a bevy of community developments projects after being designated as a Stellar Community this year along with Madison.
The state program focuses on boosting the quality-of-life in communities tapped for funding – and Culver plans to use those resources to attract a year-round population to the scenic lakefront town.
Aim spoke with Culver Town Manager Jonathan Leist about the honor, and what projects are underway.
How has Culver’s Stellar designation already impacted the community, and what long-term benefits do you anticipate?
Just participating in the Stellar Communities program as an applicant and finalist over the last two years has had a big impact on the Town of Culver and our mission. We had a lot of things in motion when we decided to apply for the program in January 2016, and the last two years in the Stellar process helped us refine our mission and our goals. The process itself, community input, and relationship building with top employers and partnering agencies helped us realize that population growth and new workforce housing were our top priorities, and allowed us to sharpen our focus and invest our resources in addressing those issues in Culver. As a result of those discussions and partnerships, we agreed to provide utilities (water, street, sewer) to a new apartment building that will provide 24 new housing units in Culver, and the developer has already broken ground on that project. This first apartment building will not receive funding from the state through Stellar Communities, but the discussions from our Stellar Communities effort are what made it a reality. In terms of long-term benefits, we hope to attract 200 new residents to live full time in Culver over the next five years, to bring 50 new students to our schools, and attract millions of dollars in new assessed value, primarily in new residential housing during the course of our Stellar Designation.
Now that Culver is a Stellar designee, what projects are in the pipeline?
We’ve had our first meeting with state staff, and it sounds like they will be able to fund the majority of the projects we had included in our Strategic Investment Plan. This includes over 1 mile of new trail that will connect our downtown, Culver Park, Culver Academies, and our new housing developments; new sidewalks on State Highway 10; streetscape improvements on West Jefferson Street; approximately $1 million in renovations to our Beach Lodge (Culver Park Building) on Lake Maxinkuckee; improvements to youth soccer and baseball fields (Cavalier Park); improvements to our park programming and accessibility to Lake Maxinkuckee; and a second phase to our housing project. The Beach Lodge and Cavalier Park are probably the projects that we will see move forward first out of that list.
Twenty years down the road, what is your vision for Culver? How will Stellar have shaped that vision?
Twenty years from now, Culver will still be growing and thriving, with a setting on one of the most pristine lakes in the Midwest. Our top employers will see more of their employees be able to live in Culver. We will have a greater diversity of housing options. Our small businesses will benefit from a growing year-round population. Ideally, we will be able to grow the year-round population while still being an attractive place for retirees, second homeowners, vacationers, and day trippers that many of our local small businesses depend on.
What excites you the most about the Stellar designation?
The Stellar Designation means so much to our community. Residents and businesses are so proud of the designation and excited to use the recognition to help market our town! I cannot tell you how many hands I have shaken, congratulations we have received, and how many times I have said “thank you” to the many partners, committee members, elected officials, and staff who made this happen in Culver. Residents have been excited about many of these projects for years, and to see them finally come to fruition over the next four years is very exciting. Personally, I cannot wait to cut the ribbon on the first one we complete, whichever it happens to be! I believe in all of the projects on the list and I am excited about the new people they will bring to Culver, and how they will improve the quality of life for our residents, either by providing a new community gathering space for park and recreation events during our Northern Indiana winters, or by providing safe bike and pedestrian connections to key locations, or improving lake accessibility for everyone in the community, all of the projects bring something to the equation that I believe when all totaled, will help us become a “Stellar Town Year-Round,” and attract new residents and commercial investment in Culver over the next five years and beyond.