A Stellar City: Huntingburg wins honor

Photos by Mark Felix/Special To The Herald
Huntingburg Mayor Denny Spinner, right, hugged Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann after Huntingburg was honored this morning as one of two Stellar Communities winners at the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis. Huntingburg and Wabash, a city southwest of Fort Wayne, were picked from a pool of six finalists.

By JONATHAN STREETMAN
Herald Staff Writer

The long wait is over and it’s stellar news for the City of Huntingburg.

Announced this morning at the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis, Huntingburg has been named one of two winners of the Stellar Communities honor. The other city to earn the designation this year is Wabash, southwest of Fort Wayne. The champions were pared from a group of six finalists that also included Decatur, Marion, Mount Vernon and Nashville.

John Mundy, right, and Alex Blackgrove, center, cheer as Huntingburg is named as a 2014 Stellar Communities Designee Thursday in the Agriculture building at the Indiana State Fair.

A 10-person delegation of Huntingburg officials and business representatives, all part of the city’s Stellar committee, was invited to the Agriculture/Horticulture Building on the state fairgrounds today to hear the announcement firsthand. In attendance were Mayor Denny Spinner, director of communications Rachel Steckler, Councilman Alex Blackgrove, Chamber of Commerce executive director Nick Stevens and Vickie Lewis, Phil Ahrens, Cory Menke, John Mundy, Cathy Young and Jane Hendrickson.

“We are honored to be designated as a Stellar Community by the State of Indiana,” Spinner said.
“The plan we put together is something that will benefit Huntingburg for years to come. We are grateful to those who specifically contributed, as well as the entire community, for all of their input and support during this process.”

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A special section with extensive coverage of the planned projects can be found here.
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The Stellar Communities program is a multi-agency partnership designed to fund comprehensive community development projects in cities and towns that apply and advance through the qualifying process. The Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs and Indiana Department of Transportation, along with the State Revolving Fund, are the flagship participants.

The Stellar Communities program, which began in 2010, embodies collaborative government partnerships and successfully leverages state and federal funding from multiple agencies to undertake large-scale projects.

Phil Ahrens, center, shakes hand with a Stellar Communities committee member after being awarded the 2014 Stellar Communities Designee Thursday in the Agriculture building at the Indiana State Fair. Huntingburg and Wabash were awarded the 2014 Stellar Communities Designees out of six finalist communities. The Stellar Communities program funds communities projects for strategic development plans.

Since filing the application in February, Huntingburg has built momentum toward earning the designation. Public listening sessions and input from business leaders helped the city shape its application and choose projects that would best benefit the city and county.

Some of the projects in the application are senior housing redevelopment at the former St. Joseph’s Hospital, affordable family housing attractive to the county’s manufacturing base, improvements to the Fourth and Market street downtown park and The Heritage Trail, a paved walking trail that will connect each of the proposed projects and link the north and south ends of the city. There is also a proposed maintenance building at the corner of 12th Street and Moenkhaus Drive that will double as a community shelter.

Huntingburg Mayor Dennis Spinner, right, reacts after Huntingburg won the 2014 Stellar Communities designee Thursday.

All of these projects are now on track for completion by 2018.

The Stellar projects, Spinner has said, will be completed without the use of city tax dollars.

On top of the $10 million windfall that now awaits the city, the Stellar designation also unlocks a $1.8 million endowment created by the Dubois County Community Foundation. The philanthropic investment, raised through private businesses and individuals, is dedicated to the preservation and upkeep of the city’s initiatives.

There are still dollars to be raised, foundation CEO Brad Ward said, adding that community participation is now more important than ever.

“You’re talking about a transformation in a three- to four-year window,” Ward said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done.”

Stevens agreed.

“This is a great day for Huntingburg and our communities,” Stevens said. “But more importantly, the hard work starts now.”