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Boldly Wabash: Plan unveiled for revitalizing historic Lafayette neighborhood

The Boldly Wabash plan was shared with the community at an open house Tuesday night.

Posted: Feb 18, 2020 8:41 PM
Updated: Feb 19, 2020 4:31 AM

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) — The historic Wabash Avenue Neighborhood in Lafayette now has a plan for revitalization. The Boldly Wabash plan was shared with the community at an open house Tuesday night. MKSK is the urban planning company helping the city put together its vision for the Wabash Avenue Neighborhood.

We've seen lots of fun, new murals pop up along Wabash Avenue as part of the Wabash Walls project organized by the Tippecanoe Arts Federation. Habitat for Humanity has also been working in this area, improving homes and making connections with neighbors, for several decades. The city wants to show how it plans to build on that momentum.

MKSK met with community members over the past year to gauge what they want to see happen. Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski spoke at the open house. He hoped the people of the Wabash Avenue Neighborhood felt like this was their plan.

Aaron Kowalski with MKSK said there are a lot of great opportunities for redevelopment in the Wabash Neighborhood because of its location.

"People want to see more restaurants, people want to see small shops, places they can walk to, coffee shops in the area," he said. "They also want to be able to access the riverfront. They want trails, they want shelters, the want to be able to experience the Wabash River."

The presentation had four central themes: celebrate the avenue, rediscover the river, keep Wabash special and let Wabash grow.

Kowalski touched on improving sidewalks, adding clear pedestrian crossing, planting more trees along the roads and adding more specified street parking. He said a big feedback they got from the neighborhood is that they want the area to be more walkable.

There was also discussion about improving traffic flow on Wabash Avenue, seeing as it's the main drag of the neighborhood and leads straight to the Cargill plant. Kowalski outlined a plan that would add more staging space for Cargill that would hopefully reduce traffic back-ups, however that space would cut into Shamrock Park.

MKSK has a completely new vision for Shamrock Park. Currently, it's a family friendly space with a dog park, playground and pic-nic shelters. It also borders the Wabash River and is prone to flooding. Kowalski is suggesting turning the park into more of a nature-focused, storm water park with boardwalks. This could make the area a designated flooding area that could help reduce flooding in other areas.

The Bold Wabash plan puts a lot of emphasis on the Sycamore Street area. The plan includes more streetscape along the road to make it more user friendly. The area of land between Sycamore Street and the river would become an open landscape park and would give people access to river overlooks. 

Kowalski pointed out the historical significance of Sycamore Street. The Wabash Avenue Neighborhood came to be in the 1800's as Irish workers moved to the area to build the Wabash Erie Canal. While the canal is no long there, Sycamore Street runs approximately where the canal used to run. So the plan proposes incorporating a long water feature similar to a canal be built to honor that history. And practically, the water feature could be used to help off load excess rain water to the would-be storm water park.

One of the most important parts of the plan is for housing and business development. The plan outlines three main places for housing: the north end of Sycamore Street, around the area where Kirby Risk sits and along Warehouse Street on the south side of the neighborhood. The area around Kirby Risk could be transformed into waterfront property that could be home to businesses as well.

Improving housing was what started the turn-around on Wabash Avenue to begin with. Habitat for Humanity of Lafayette put its headquarters in the neighborhood and since the early 1990's, the organization has helped dozens of homes. 

Stepheney Bible works for Habitat for Humanity and lives in the neighborhood. She said it takes more than just housing to get a neighborhood back on its feet.

"Habitat for Humanity really challenges its affiliates across the nation to focus more on neighborhood revitalization," she said. "So that makes it more than just building four walls and leaving. It's investing in a neighborhood not just through housing but through community building with really the end goal of being a neighborhood plan."

Bible said she is excited about this new plan for her home. Leaders at the open house got positive feedback from those in attendance.

They are still very much in the early stages of seeing any of these changes happen. The plan for the neighborhood has short and long-term goals which can be implemented over time. Kowalski emphasized that any changes that do happen still have to be approved by the proper entities. 

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