By Dan Spalding
News Now Warsaw
WARSAW — Winona Avenue — from Detroit Street in Warsaw to the town of Winona Lake — is one of four Warsaw corridors being eyed for major redevelopment projects.
Warsaw is one of three cities participating in a pilot program launched by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation which is providing support from the Brookings Institute and another group, the Local Initiatives Support Council, to local leaders to develop proposals that would be used to significantly improve four existing corridors — Winona Avenue, Argonne Road, Market Street and Buffalo Street.
The state initiative involving the cities of Warsaw, Michigan City and Seymor is a year-long exercise in which each city is investigating ways to improve the corridors, which should lead to specific proposals to the state later this year.
The endeavor is being led locally by Kosciusko Economic Development Corp., with support from the Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce, the Kosciusko County Community Foundation, and the city plan office.
Winona Avenue appears to be a top priority, according to several community leaders.
The 1.5-mile stretch of roadway is an intense retail district that is heavily traveled and looks tired from decades of neglect. Much of the road lacks curbs or sidewalks or good lighting.
The road is home to at least eight eateries, two strip malls and is dominated by small businesses. It’s also home to an agency that serves the disabled, a homeless shelter, a foundry and numerous empty storefronts and buildings.
Officials said they think it deserves much more attention than just a new streetscape.
KEDCo Executive Director Alan Tio referenced the need to improve Winona Avenue last month when officials unveiled plans to redevelop the old Gatke property on McKinley Street just north of Winona Avenue into a multi-use apartment complex.
Tio said that development could tie in directly with improvements on Winona Avenue.
Locally, a large group representing various interests in the city has been meeting for about four months, according to Suzie Light, one of the leaders of a large advisory committee.
Light agrees Winona Avenue needs a lot of work — especially in terms of walkability — and said the new initiative is a chance to dream big.
She tossed out a few hypothetical ideas.
“Let’s Just imagine what that would look like if that was the international market corridor. What if that were an extension of how the vibe of the Village at Winona comes through Winona Avenue into downtown Warsaw?” Light said.
After completion of the local “labs” from the three cities, Brookings and LISC will synthesize the learnings from Indiana into a playbook for a national audience, that highlights how rural and small cuties can work with regional leaders and state agencies “to foster greater equity and prosperity,” according to paperwork provided by KEDCo.
Light said they want specific proposals ready ahead of the next round of READI grants operated by the state.
“We’re hoping to get three to five big transformative projects that could be eligible for READI funding when it’s announced,” Light said. “Along with that, there are going to be smaller projects that local funding could address.”
City Planner Justin Taylor says the enhancements will be a long-term project that will take years to finish and will likely be complicated by lots of right-of-way issues.
“I wish we could just snap our fingers and go in there tomorrow and make it this great pedestrian corridor and have the streets redone and everything, but it’s a process and we have to take our time and do it right,” Taylor said.
He said they’ll also work to be sensitive to the interests of property owners.