GREENSBURG – Eighteen months of planning culminated in a figurative red carpet rollout for state officials Tuesday that simultaneously highlighted the city’s storied past, its optimistic present, and what representatives of multiple local agencies believe will lead to a “treemendous” future.

Officials representing close to a dozen state agencies took a bus tour of the sites of several planned quality of life improvements, including a dog park, splash pad, amphitheater and children’s play space, and saw for themselves a vision of Greensburg’s future that has occupied the minds of locals pushing to receive a prestigious state designation for the better part of a year and a half.

And by using the talents of a local theatre group, the knowledge of FFA students, and even classes of exuberant preschoolers who happily played with miniaturized farm equipment, they hammered home their message in a way the state’s Stellar Communities Designation Program (SCDP) officials likely aren’t soon to forget.

Greensburg-Decatur County Chamber of Commerce executive director Jeff Emsweller described Tuesday’s visit as “pivotal” for the project as he and representatives of four other city and county organizations spent about three hours outlining community improvement plans.

Emsweller called on a phrase often used by former Chamber director Bob Bostic: “working together works” to highlight the community-driven, collaborative nature of the project. And the current director said he believes the time to make it all happen is now.

“This community needs these plans to become a reality now,” said Emsweller. “It’s our turn. It’s our time. This is the day it becomes real.”

Shared message

Emsweller’s message was echoed by fellow presenters Mayor Dan Manus, Stellar project lead David Fry, Main Street Greensburg executive director Wendy Blake, Community Foundation executive director Tami Wenning, Economic Corporation Development director Marc Coplon, Visitors and Recreation Bureau executive director (and former mayor) Gary Herbert and Decatur County Memorial Hospital Foundation executive director Bryan Robbins, all of whom spoke optimistically of efforts to create a “cultural corridor” on Main St. intended to promote health, recreation, tourism, housing improvements, and population and economic growth.

All projects stem from a Community Vision Plan created through survey responses from local residents. It was the community who formed the backbone of the project, which includes shorter-term efforts like the dog park as well as those that will take a bit longer, such as paving and improved curbs on E. Main.

The group pared down a list of 14 recommendations to eight and selected 15 initiatives from a field of 40, all of which will eventually be completed – with or without the Stellar Designation.

But the SCDP would allow the city to work closely with state officials on the projects. Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch described the SCDP as “transformative” for communities.

Whirlwind tour

The SCDP is backed by the Office of Community and Rural Affairs, Indiana Department of Transportation and the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, each of which was represented Tuesday.

That group was here to hear the city’s plans and learn how the project’s goals will be accomplished.

With that in mind, the project’s primary planners put on a show that included heartfelt testimonials of what Greensburg means to them, and a whirlwind bus tour of each proposed site.

Along the way, they watched Good Shepherd Christian Academy students busy themselves with toys and games in a proposed “Family Fun Farm” on W. Main St. That play place is intended to attract children, their parents and grandparents and bears similarities to the popular Commons in Columbus.

Wenning, soon to be a grandmother, spoke of the $1.2 million project, calling it “one of the most exciting” prospects.

Other stops included a look at the Decatur County Courthouse, which is still undergoing extensive masonry repair. But that work didn’t damper a presentation by Blake, which hyped a proposed community gathering place on the courthouse lawn that appears destined to add to the hustle and bustle of the downtown square.

The guests also saw the mosaic-emblazoned trash bins that dot the downtown and the Wings mural that has become an attraction – and favorite photo spot for many – all its own.

Robbins outlined the expanded use of Rebekah Park and its ample greenspaces, which will be the site of the one-acre dog park as well as an amphitheater intended for music and much more outdoor fun. Kids – and kids at heart – can make summertime memories in a future splash park, while the growing popularity of pickle ball (described by Robbins as “ping pong on steroids”) will be reflected in additional courts.

One of the largest additions will be 10 new soccer fields that could play host to tournaments in much the same way the Parks and Rec. Department’s baseball diamonds drive tourism and commerce in the spring and summer.

Robbins said the transformation would make the underutilized park “an ideal community destination.”

Coplon said the projects will be branded and will be made visible through a marketing campaign that answers the “why?” for each of the planned initiatives.

“Every project is a win for our region,” the EDC director said.

An example is the amphitheater, which could schedule concerts in accordance with Rushville’s Riverside Park in order to avoid overlap and maximize attendance at both locations.

Working together works

Rushville was named a Stellar designee last year, and Mayor Mike Pavey and City Councilman Brian Sheehan provided input for Greensburg’s effort. Both were in attendance Tuesday and were thanked for their help.

That’s another example of communities working together.

Herbert, the senior member of the group, has seen much of that throughout the years, and reflected emotionally on what Greensburg means to him -- and how the community improvement plans will shape the Tree City for future generations.

Mayor Manus spoke of collaborations as well and mentioned the resurrection of the Tree City Fall Festival as another example of desire meeting action.

The overarching theme was not only that Greensburg residents have big plans -- it was that those plans spur people to put in the work that will, as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard might say, “make it so.”

“We come together and we make things happen,” Blake said.

“We care, we come together, we succeed,” added Robbins.

Fry touted Honda’s selection of Greensburg in 2006 as the site of its production plant and said that, time and again, Greensburg succeeds when it sets out to accomplish something.

One recent example is the Tree County Players’ successful fundraising campaign which brought in $274,000. The theatre group now has a playhouse to call its own on W. Main, but Fry said other performances could be held there as well.

Those tasks and so many more have been accomplished by people – and organizations – working hand-in-hand.

And in that respect, the Tree City’s residents always seem to come through.

The group revealed at the end of the program that more than $1.3 million had been put toward the city’s Stellar effort just since the group submitted its Strategic Improvement Plan in August. That money was given entirely by local businesses and organizations and joins funding and/or formal support from the city and county councils, county commissioners, county redevelopment commission and many more organizations and agencies.

It’s certainly a case of strength in numbers, and the group’s final plea to SCDP officials prior to the final selection Oct. 18 emphasized the continued collaborations that have so often formed the roots of Tree City hopes and dreams.

Herbert said Visitors and Rec. will continue to fund the planned projects, and he hopes other organizations will continue on the same path.

It’s a road organizers believe leads only to “treemendous” things.

“Even if we don’t get the [Stellar] award, we’re going to still do what we can to make Greensburg and Decatur County a better place to live, work and play,” said Herbert.

Contact: Brent Brown 812-663-3111 x7056; brent.brown@greensburgdailynews.com

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