MUNCIE, Indiana – This past week, City of Muncie Mayor Dennis Tyler gave the “State of the City” address to a packed house of attendees at the Horizon Convention Center. While the address is generally retrospective, I get the sense this is yet another symbol of spring, or the birth of a new life for our community.
Mayor Tyler told the crowd, “We are moving forward together.”
The Mayor talked about the new Arc Training Hotel attached to the Horizon Convention Center which will focus on hospitality training for disabled people from around the country. Our close friend, Jeff Huffman, 1981 graduate from Yorktown High School, came up with the idea of this collaborative effort while serving on the board for Arc of Indiana. Jeff and his wife, Jan, have a son who was born with Down Syndrome. Jan’s father owned Steck’s Men’s Fashion in the University Village several decades ago. Jeff’s father owned Noble Roman’s Pizza. So, both of them have deep connections to the Muncie community.
Speaking of the Village, the Mayor also discussed the $60 million Village Promenade development underway on two city blocks along University Avenue. At the center of the monolithic three-story apartment complex will be a parking garage owned by the City of Muncie. For those of you trying to visit the shops in our Village area know all too well, parking is badly needed in the area.
Just driving around the community today, you’ll see new development taking place. South Muncie and west toward Yorktown. Out by the Mall, and back downtown at the Lofts at the Roberts. All indications Muncie is on the move. New retail stores means new shoppers, but it will also mean more vacancies in old retail sites. We can see this already along Martin Luther King Blvd., Madison Street, South Walnut, North Walnut, and North Bethel corridor. We were told by the urban professionals who created downtown’s master plan that we had way too much retail space in Delaware County, so adding new stores means more vacancies. We’ll need a plan for these abandoned sites.
Another vibe you heard from Mayor Tyler and others around town, thanks to the efforts of retiring Ball State President, Jo Ann Gora, is we are embracing our role as a college town. There, I said it.
What does this mean to the community?
Muncie Voice has been talking about this over the past year and this is why we’ve advocated for more forward thinking ideas versus our traditions of old. For instance, we’ve all heard the comments that Muncie is the tale of two towns, but guess what happened in 2013?
In a very loud, kicking and screaming at the start but proud and together at the end, we made a symbolic move forward by moving from two competing high schools to one. The motto used for this transition was “One Muncie”. I saw it used on several Tweets with the hashtag #OneMuncie. Maybe this new motto will be seen and heard more often – shared in a positive way about Muncie.
Maybe the next time to share good news on social media for the benefit of all in the community, #OneMuncie.
So, were combining these two schools together more than a matter of finances?
We think so, and have emphasized how consolidating high schools is symbolic for our town coming together as one. The arguments, resentments, SILO building and protecting, north and south, labor v management, rich v poor, mentality of old is dying by necessity. The arts and culture community are rebuilding and thriving, but even they have barriers to overcome. Even graffiti is art and must be embraced. That guy and gal with tattoos – that’s an expression of art, too.
Mayor Tyler has said it before, and he firmly believes it, “The Arc Training Institute and Courtyard Marriott Hotel is our defining project.”
This project is more than a hotel for convention attendees – it symbolizes diversity at its best. It captures the very heart of inclusion. We are a college town. We need to stand for diversity and inclusion. The old organizations and institutional barriers supporting exclusion and separateness will be, and should be challenged.
Ball State University, as our largest employer, cannot stand apart from this community. The new president will be announced soon and will have to build upon the efforts of Jo Ann Gora. He/She has big shoes to fill, but their steps forward will need to be transparent and obvious, and should mirror the goals and objectives for the City of Muncie as a whole, and all of Delaware County.
For instance, as opposed to having a large percent of their employees living outside Muncie, wouldn’t it be nice if those choosing to live in Muncie would receive an incentive beyond a short commute to work. Instead of talking about how the City has expanded bike lanes around town, include bike lanes on campus connecting with the communities lanes and leading more students out to the Cardinal Greenway. Maybe Ball State could offer to redo University Avenue to include bike lanes traveling in and out of campus. As opposed to building more on-campus restaurants and only allowing dining cards on campus, allow those cards to be used off campus for discounted meals. Instead of housing Building Better Community’s offices in a building north of campus, have their offices situated off-campus in south or east Muncie.
These are just a few ideas. We’d even like to see more professors involved in local politics. There are a few, but most have chosen to distance themselves. A community cannot change if those closest to it choose not to participate. It will take an effort by everyone, but as Mayor Tyler pointed out, we are off to a really good start.