This spring, ROI proudly recognized organizations for innovations to improve education, economic development, and quality of place in the Indiana Uplands. This is the third in a series of six stories that feature winners of the Regional Innovation Awards. Their work showcases conceptual shifts, creative strategies, and commitment to action that we hope will inspire others in the region.
Market Street Park: A signature downtown space for activity, arts, culture and events in Huntingburg
With just over 6,000 residents, the City of Huntingburg is no stranger to the challenges facing small communities in the Indiana Uplands. Chief among those challenges? How to preserve small-town historical charm while growing in ways that keep the community culturally vibrant and economically viable for residents and businesses.
“When the downturn happened in a lot of small communities,” Mayor Denny Spinner told ROI, “I think our leaders had the foresight and the ability to be flexible. We’ve had some waves of change in our downtown, and we’re in the middle of one of those right now. I think that the dedication to have a community like this was important—and the ability to recognize we can’t be what we were. We’ve got to change. We weren’t going to compete with the box stores. We had to be something different. So they found a way to keep the downtown a place that you wanted to be.”
The City of Huntingburg has long embraced its special quality of place, embodied in its slogan “A City Like No Other.” Years of community-wide planning and strategizing, along with critical partnerships, have culminated in Market Street Park, a new public space that serves as the centerpiece of Huntingburg’s past and future. The design of Market Street Park embraces the community’s spirit of place, creating a signature space for festivals and events, as well as providing a more fitting setting for the Old Town Hall landmark.
The vision for the park evolved, in part, from the creation of Huntingburg’s annual Garden Gate Wine and Jazz Festival, an event designed by Huntingburg’s Chamber of Commerce to bring people downtown. The inaugural festival was held in what Mayor Spinner jokingly described as “a very municipal parking lot.” But despite its mundane setting, residents and visitors still flocked downtown to enjoy wine and jazz.
“So we said, ‘What would it be like if we had a space that’s designed to hold this kind of event?’” Mayor Spinner explained. “There was some visionary work going on at that time, and we put the new park as part of our Stellar Communities plan. When we were fortunate to gain the Stellar Communities designation, it really became possible. The partnerships between the state of Indiana, our local government, and our private sector came together right away.”
Market Street Park is already attracting new investment to downtown Huntingburg. A vacant building directly adjacent to the park was recently leased and renovated into a business incubator. The private developers of the incubator project cited the park as the deciding factor in choosing a location—proof that investing in quality of place brings tangible results.
Regionalism lies at the heart of Huntingburg’s strategy. “We’re in a very strong economy in Dubois County,” Mayor Spinner noted. “We have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state every month. And we see an opportunity. We have strong industries around us, and we want to be the place where people choose to live. You’ve got to make a commitment to amenities like this to make that happen. I think there’s proof that [Millennials] and others are going to come back to their hometowns, and we have to have the amenities there for them to say, ‘Yes! I can still enjoy a quality of life even in a rural community. I don’t feel disconnected. I feel like I can have things for my family to do. There’s an arts and culture scene here, there’s activity going on.’”
The Market Street Park project is setting the stage for a healthy and productive downtown community for decades to come. The park is the first key piece to attracting multiple generations to work, live, and play in Huntingburg.
Photos courtesy of the City of Huntingburg.