An artist’s rendering shows how Main Street will look after one of the planned projects that are part of the Stellar Communities initiative in North Vernon. The scene is looking west from Madison Avenue. The buildings depicted at right are where the current city parking lot by the police station.
The next 36 months promises to be the most exciting period the City of North Vernon has seen in generations, thanks to its being named one of two "Stellar Communities" in the state of Indiana.
The announcement, made Monday afternoon by Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman, was eagerly anticipated by Mayor Harold Campbell and Jennings County Economic Development Commission Director Kathy Ertel. The two anxiously awaited the telephone call that was to inform the mayor which of the 12 finalists in this first ever state initiative had been selected.
When the phone rang, it was the lieutenant governor herself with the great news.
Along with North Vernon, Greencastle, the home of DePauw University, will share the estimated $30 million windfall allocated to the Stellar program.
Forty-two communities originally submitted applications for the pilot program. The top 12 were then asked to submit formal proposals. Finally, representatives from the participating agencies visited each finalist to view and learn more about their plans.
North Vernon site visit was Feb. 4. The committee was treated to lunch, then introduced to the project at the Park Theatre. Afterwards, they boarded a bus for a tour of the various project areas as well as Muscatatuck Urban Training Center (MUTC).
North Vernon's close proximity to MUTC was a key, if not the defining, element in its selection as a Stellar Community.
"Our region is not able to take full advantage of Muscatatuck without a vibrant North Vernon," Campbell explained.
Indiana National Guard Adjutant Gen. R. Martin Umbarger as well as Gen. Cliff Tooley both joined city officials on the site selection visit. Improvements to North Vernon will greatly enhance the experience of those receiving training at MUTC, Umbarger told the site committee.
Skillman's office even described North Vernon as a future "economic hub for the defense industry" in the official press release announcing the Stellar recipients.
That statement was not lost on Ertel, who led the local Stellar Community planning committee.
"We showed the site committee something different. ... We took them to MUTC and showed them how we collaborate as partners," she said.
Or, as Campbell puts it, "MUTC sets us apart from other communities."
Many of the 12 finalists focused on downtown revitalization, Ertel continued. North Vernon's application went further.
While the city's application included local revitalization, North Vernon also demonstrated how local improvements would work hand in hand with the continued expansion and viability of MUTC.
"For MUTC to grow, we need to grow" she stated.
The growth of MUTC holds the promise of creating economic growth not just in North Vernon, but around the region as well, another premise which appealed to the selection committee.