KENDALLVILLE — The Kendallville Redevelopment Commission is pledging some of its money toward helping the city hire a full-time Main Street manager.

With $20,000 from the commission, matching a similar $20,000 budgeted by the Kendallville City Council, the city has a foundation to start fine tuning a job description and looking for a person to manage the downtown.

On Wednesday morning, commission members voted to provide $20,000 per year to Experience the Heart of Kendallville, the city’s official Main Street organization, for the next four years before re-evaluating that level of support.

The money will be earmarked for helping pay the salary of a full-time Main Street manager, a position the city needs to get established not just as a requirement of the $2 million PreservINg Main Street grant it was recently awarded, but for long-term sustainability in downtown development and promotion.

The top of creating a hiring a new person to manage downtown came up earlier this year at the behest of the Kendallville Area Chamber of Commerce, which has been pushing to segregate the work its executive director, Kristen Johnson, is doing as the ex-facto head of Experience the Heart of Kendallville.

There’s been in built in conflict there as the Chamber is supposed to primarily be serving its dues-paying members, while Experience the Heart of Kendallville promotes all downtown businesses but only downtown businesses and events.

While the two organizations share some common overlap, the roles have become too intertwined and need to be separated.

Beyond that, the role of chamber director and downtown manager are separate and distinct and more than one person is able to tackle together, anyway, Johnson said.

“There’s a lot of things we could be doing that we, capacity-wise, can’t do right now,” Johnson said of the downtown.

Experience the Heart of Kendallville hired consultant John Bry to serve as a Main Street administrator on a part-time basis while exploring a more permanent solution.

That searched received a boost when Kendallville was selected by the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs for its brand-new $2 million grant program, which comes with the requirement of having a Main Street manager.

Johnson said the grant also requires the city to become a nationally-accredited Main Street, which requires not just a lot of work to initially obtain but also to maintain yearly.

The redevelopment commission had opted to wait to see what Kendallville budgeted for Main Street manager support. The city’s 2022 budget, as approved, included $20,000 in annual support for that job.

“We added it to the budget not as a one-time deal,” Mayor Suzanne Handshoe said. “If we have a commitment from the RDC and it looks serious, then we can look at the job description and who they report to.”

Johnson said pay for a Main Street manager for a city Kendallville’s size usually would run somewhere between $40,000 to $50,000 per year, depending on the candidate.

Any extra above $40,000 could come from the $100,000 in matching funds the city is required to put up as part of the PreservINg Main Street grant, Johnson said, but the new staff member would also be responsible for doing more annual fundraising for Experience the Heart of Kendallville, too.

Whether the person will become an employee of the City of Kendallville or of Experience the Heart of Kendallville has not been decided yet.

It’s one area where the dual role Johnson is filling for the Chamber and Experience the Heart of Kendallville comes at a cost, as she’s split between trying to support both groups.

“The Main Street manager is going to be tasked with raising more funds than (the organization is) currently raising,” Johnson said.

Handshoe said that new person could work on running more events and promoting them, which would bring in more money and further support the role of the downtown organization.

The mayor mentioned that this year’s Art on Main project, bee boxes, hit higher total at the end-of-season auction, with those proceeds going to Experience the Heart of Kendallville. There’s potential to grow something that even larger, similar to what Auburn does each year with its art projects and auction, she said.

The downtown revitalization is picking up momentum and the responsibility and attention needed to keep it going has grown to justify its own dedicated person.

“We’re starting to see what our potential is and the bar is up here and I think we need to reach the bar,” Handshoe said.

Commission members questioned how long their support would be needed, with non-voting East Noble School Board member Barb Babcock asking whether the commission would be supporting the job for a year, 10 years, forever?

New commission member Tara Streb suggested the RDC commit to four years to start, then re-evaluate that level after that. The four-year period was a deliberate choice, because the city’s Downtown TIF sunsets in 2025, at which point the commission would no longer be capturing the more than $100,000 in annual TIF revenue from the downtown.

Commission member Carla Lowe noted that business owners in the city’s other TIF areas might object if the city is spending money captured from their taxes in downtown if the city isn’t technically collecting any more from Main Street.

Board members liked the four-year window and voted 3-0 to commit to $20,000 per year starting next year. Lowe and commission members Jim Jarrett and Loren Allen voted in favor.

Johnson and Streb both abstained from the vote due to conflict of interest, because Johnsin is the de-factor leader of Experience the Heart of Kendallville and Streb is secretary for that group’s board.

In other business Wednesday, the RDC:

• Welcomed Streb to the commission. Streb, who works for the Noble County Economic Development Corp. and Noble County Convention and Visitors Bureau, was appointed to replace Patrick Hess, who had to resign off the board because he moved outside of Kendallville.

• Approved a marketing support plan for new businesses, which will provide a small cash incentive to new businesses locating in the TIF area to help pay for advertising and other promotion of their business.

• Heard an update from Handshoe on progress of the pocket park across from City Hall, which the RDC contributed $25,000 toward. Concrete work and landscaping is mostly complete and the city is working toward trying to get a large community Christmas tree arranged for this winter. Final plantings will finish out the park in spring, but all of the physical improvements should be done by the end of this year.

• Decided to set an annual cap of $100,000 on 50/50 matching facade grants. The RDC funds up to $15,000 per request, although few projects hit that individual project cap. The commission has funded about $65,000 in facade projects this year, the most ever, so board members felt the $100,000 cap was adequate to fund enough work while also protecting the board’s cash balance.

• Heard an update about next steps with the $2 million PreservINg Main Street grant. More than 40 building and business owners attended an informational meeting at the Chamber Monday and Johnson reported 26 have indicated at least initial interest in applying for facade upgrades. The city is asking only a 15% match for work from the grant and hoping building owners will seek some dramatic upgrades to their buildings.

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