Community, collaboration stressed for city’s future

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

JASPER — City officials took a look at Jasper 2030 Tuesday night when students from Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs presented recommendations for Jasper’s future after studying the city for a few months.

The project served as a capstone for about 30 graduate students from around the world, about six of whom visited Jasper during their research. The students completed the bulk of the work online using materials city officials provided, local newspaper articles and the city’s website. The final product included mixed-use neighborhoods, attracting a younger demographic, building public-private partnerships and future planning looking toward 2030, Jasper’s bicentennial year.

When the class looked at possibilities for mixed-use areas in Jasper, the Vine Street area stood out. The once-bustling industrial area has been creeping back to life over the last few years as growing businesses expand into the vacant buildings, and Ohio-based developer Miller-Valentine Group constructed Jasper Lofts and Vine Street Lofts in the area. The SPEA students provided even more ideas for attracting people to the neighborhood, including sidewalk construction and bike lanes to help connect the area to the Riverwalk and Courthouse Square, as well as interactive signage that includes distances to attractions in the city and QR coding.

“It takes people on a journey through town instead of just that simple commute,” said Aaron Degres, the student who presented the class’s recommendations to city officials Tuesday.

The group also recommended establishing a microbrewery in the Vine Street neighborhood, particularly one “steeped in tradition” with a focus on German beers and possibly German food. The microbrewery, Degres said, would attract people to the Vine Street area, as well as tie the area to the annual Strassenfest.

Other businesses the class recommended bringing to the city were a locally-owned coffee shop and a coworking space. The class also suggested turning the current Jasper Public Library location, which the city owns, into a community center once the Thyen-Clark Cultural Center opens around 2020.

The class’s suggestions for Vine Street and new businesses played into attracting the younger demographic, particularly the sidewalks and bike lanes, Degres said. Other suggestions included stressing Jasper’s proximity to other, larger cities, such as St. Louis and Nashville, Tennessee. The low cost of living could also be a selling point, and the class suggested adding a cost comparison between living in Jasper and living on the coast to the city’s website where potential residents can easily find it. The class also suggested redoing the city’s website to focus more on marketing the city and less on city functions, such as utilities, which Director of Planning and Development Darla Blazey said is already in the works.

As part of the class’s marketing recommendations, they created several new logos for the city, each sporting the German red, yellow and black, with mottos that emphasize heritage with a modern appeal. A motto is missing from Jasper’s current logo, but having one would help with marketing Jasper, especially on social media, Degres said.

Other recommendations included a bike-share program, community garden and partnering with banks to offer “fix it” loans, which are low interest loans for small amounts of money geared toward lower-income homeowners that help them make improvements to their homes. Such loans, Degres said, encourage homeownership, improve neighborhoods and provide instant equity to homeowners. Partnerships between employers and landlords could also lead to rent-reduced apartments.

“It could be an extended lease at a discounted rate,” Degres said.

For all the recommendations, Degres said, community involvement and collaboration is key. Giving citizens a voice in the decision-making process provides the buy-in revitalization efforts need to be successful.

Going forward, Blazey said, city officials and community members will look at the class’s recommendations during the comprehensive planning process that began earlier this year. Community meetings that will give citizens a voice in the planning process will be part of developing the new comprehensive plan that once complete will guide officials’ decisions through 2030.




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