Change ahead for community

City, county officials share overview, future plans


A year of transformational change lies ahead said Mayor Todd Barton in the recent State of the Community address.

Barton and Montgomery County Administrator Tom Klein shared a general overview of governmental activities and offered a preview of what is to come.

“Our biggest challenge, at this point, lies in our ability to successfully manage the growth that is about to occur,” he said.

Barton, who recently began an unprecedented fourth term leading the city, said a focus on building a foundation for success has led the city to its current state.

“We’ve seen much success in the recent years, and this community is now on the cusp of significant growth and change over the next few years,” Barton sad. “Crawfordsville will look much different in the near future, thanks to the hard work of many people and organizations.

Barton said his administration has focused on the fundamentals of steadily improving the quality of place and quality of life, accelerating economic development in terms of private investment and job growth, and improving our infrastructure, while steadfastly stabilizing our fiscal health.

In the post-pandemic era, the city has leveraged new funding sources, including $3.6 million from the American Rescue Plan to help those most negatively impacted.

Much of the ARP funds were appropriated to local on-profit agencies, including the Youth Service Bureau, Boys & Girls Club, Montgomery County 4-H, Meals on Wheels, Camp Milligan, Montgomery County Early Childhood Coalition and more. The remainder of the funds were used for infrastructure improvements, such as sewer extensions, park upgrades and pedestrian safety enhancements.

The city also received $2 million in matching funds from READI 1.0. Now, as part of READI 2.0, the county is aligned with Tippecanoe, Fountain and four other counties to the north, as well as Ivy Tech, Wabash College, and Purdue University, to propose a regional development strategy that capitalizes on the synergies in each community that will be nothing short of transformational, Barton said.

“We are nearly complete with the planning phase and in a few short weeks, will be submitting a plan that seeks to invest $75 million across our seven counties to improve the quality of life, focus development, and accelerate economic growth,” he added.

The mayor also highlighted the unprecedented levels of economic development success here. Over the last few years, nearly $750 million in new investments have been announced in Crawfordsville and Montgomery County, creating 1,000 new jobs.

“This is an incredible achievement for a community our size and is the result of a total team effort,” Barton said.

Most recently, those announcements include:

• American Innovation Research & Development investing $12 million and adding eight jobs

• Tempur Sealy investing $138 million and adding 300 jobs

• Nucor Towers and Structures Division investing $120 million and adding 200 jobs

• Polycycle Research & Development Facility investing $4 million and adding 10 jobs

• Traffic Control Solutions investing $2 million and adding 34 jobs

• IRA Whiskey Co. investing $5 million and adding 10 jobs

In addition, these existing businesses announced expansion projects:

• Closure Systems International investing $25 million and adding 50 jobs

• Pace Dairy Foods investing $7.5 million and adding 20 new jobs

• International Paper investing $3 million

• Nucor Steel investing $400 million and adding 80 new jobs

Barton said to face the workforce challenge ahead, he is focused on attracting new residents as well as retaining as many of the community’s own next generation.

“Over the last year, we have been working hand in hand with our local school corporations to begin mapping out a new approach to giving our young people the skills to succeed in the workforce, and ultimately the ability to live rewarding lives right here in Crawfordsville and Montgomery County,” Barton said.

Plans are underway to create of a career academy at Ivy Tech Community College, which will provide a centralized hub for a career technical education and continued workforce education.

The city is also involved with the Montgomery County Early Childhood Coalition, which is addressing the need for quality childcare and early learning.

Making certain Crawfordsville is a community people where people want to live is also a focus. Quality of place projects are essential, Barton said.

“For us, this is an ongoing effort springing from the momentum of being designated a Stellar Community all those years ago,” he said. “Thanks to those early efforts we were able to create the downtown trail, the Sugar Creek Trail connection near the animal shelter, Bark Avenue Dog Park, Phillip Michal Park, Fusion 54, and course, Pike Place.”

That momentum has continued with the construction of Kathy Steel Park on the west side, the reconstruction of Frances Wood Park on the north side and upgrades to Milligan Park. In 2024, Lincoln Park on the east side will be reconstructed. Two new parks will be constructed, the 100-acre Brickyard Nature Park south of Concord Road, and the 47-acre Shortz Nature Park on the southside.

Quality of place efforts continue in the downtown with the ally activation gathering place and the replacement of the fountain at Canine Plaza. The city also is in the final stages of a study to determine the future of Milligan Park Pool.

Ample available housing is also a challenge that is being met. In 2023, Arbor Homes announced it would construct a 194-lot subdivision, called Hawkeye, along U.S. 231 near the Purple Heart Parkway. Expect dirt to move there in the second quarter. The Diamond Ridge addition also added 100 new homes and is serving as a catalyst for potentially more single-family homes.

A developer has purchased land on the south side of between C.R. 150S and Purple Heart Parkway to construct 400 market-rate apartments. The Ben Hur project recently received approval to change the scope of the project to add 49 apartments in the downtown. Construction is anticipated this spring.

Barton said his administration is also focused on retail recruitment, and that much is happening behind the scenes.

“I can tell you that retail in Crawfordsville will look very different in a couple of years, and I’m confident we are close to addressing the need for additional grocery capacity in Crawfordsville,” he said.

Barton also noted several infrastructure improvements that have been made or are in progress, including street paving projects, replacing a bridge on Big Four Arch Road, and rebuilding Wabash Avenue from Mill Street to Wallace Avenue. The project to extend Schenck Road from Big Four Arch Road to State Road 32 is moving along as are improvements on C.R. 150S from U.S. 231 to Ladoga Road and Traction Road from U.S. 136 to the eastern city limits. The city has prepared a study of the Market Street railroad crossing and is prepared to seek federal funding to find a solution for the traffic disruptions there.

This spring enhanced crosswalks, with warning lights, will be installed on Elmore Street between the two Acuity Lighting facilities and along West Wabash Avenue near Wabash College. A new sidewalk improvement initiative also will be announced soon. The wayfinding sign project also should be completed in 2024.

Barton said the reconstruction of Shelley Drain should take place this year, which will hopefully remove a major barrier to growth and development on the east side.

As for the city’s finances, Barton said balances have remained strong.

“We ended 2022 at $38.8 million, and 2023 at $41 million,” he said. “As a matter of perspective, we began with a balance of $21million when I took office in 2012. So, as you can see, our hard work is paying off, our fiscal health is good, and we are in a very strong position moving forward.”

Like Barton, county officials share similar goals.

“As we come out of the pandemic, the county commissioners — John Frey, Jim Fulwider and Dan Guard — have established a vision to create new employment opportunities and attract new residents to live in our county,” Klein said. “We are starting to see the results of the vision with new homes being built, 70 acres of new homes and new businesses expanding or locating in our county.”

Tempur Sealy celebrated the opening of its new manufacturing facility and Nucor Steel broke ground on a plant expansion and announced that it will locate its Nucor Towers manufacturing facility south of Nucor Steel.

“The Tempur Sealy and Nucor projects will create hundreds of jobs and provide millions of dollars of tax revenue,” he said. “These projects would not have been possible without investments by the county in the extension of water and sewer along with road improvements on Nucor Road and Comfort Drive.”

The county continues to invest in infrastructure to attract new businesses and residents.

“The county partnered with the city of Crawfordsville to design an extension of Purple Heart Parkway from U.S. 231 to Ladoga Road,” Klein said. “Each party will pay 50% of the costs of construction with our share coming from a state grant and federal funds. The bid for this project was recently awarded by the commissioners and construction will begin this spring with the project substantially complete by the fall. The project will open thousands of acres of new housing and business development.”

The county is continuing to work on the design of an overpass on Nucor Road over U.S. 136. Officials have applied for a state grant that would pay 80% of the construction costs.

“We hope to learn this spring about the grant award,” Klein said. “If we are awarded the grant, we intend to begin construction at the end of the year with construction continuing through 2025 and into 2026. The overpass will improve safety at the intersection of U.S. 136 and will increase the efficient flow of traffic along Nucor Road.”

Commissioners also have established a vision that new development is quality development and contributes to the overall appearance of the county.

“To that end new standards for development were adopted by the commissioners after review by the plan commission,” Klein said.

The new standards apply to building setbacks from adjacent property, signage, lighting, and landscaping and creating new zoning districts that separate allowable uses.

Commissioners established a steering committee of county residents and elected officials to review the community vision within the comprehensive plan. Meetings were held throughout the year and officials anticipate a new comprehensive plan will be adopted this year.

On the housing side, the county participated in a regional housing study, worked to identify areas of new housing, and is working to apply for state grants with the city to assist with the construction of infrastructure for housing.

Klein said the county continues to collaborate with the city, MCCF and other stakeholders in the development of the Montgomery County Early Learning Center, which will be located in the former county building on South Boulevard.

“The new learning center will help meet the need for childcare in the county, which is vital for our families and businesses,” he said.

A good road network is important for safe travel and the county is continuing to invest in that area.

“Our highway department maintains 500 miles of paved roads and 300 miles of gravel roads,” Klein said.

Last year, a state grant enabled crews to pave 5 miles of with hot mix and 25 miles with cold mix.

In 2023, the city also began providing countywide EMS.

“The city responded to 932 calls in the county, and we appreciate the city’s emergency response service to our residents,” Klein said.

A new radio system is being installed at the Central Communications Center. It has features that will help with quicker dispatch and response times.

Last year, the county opted to participate in a state program that adds funding for the health department.

In closing, Klein said commissioners remain committed to making the county a desirable place to live and work.