COLUMBIA CITY — Many good things are on the horizon for residents of Columbia City – new housing developments are under construction, the downtown is flourishing, businesses are making investments, the unemployment rate dropped below 4 percent and the city made improvements to its infrastructure.

“I could only find one word to represent the progress and accomplishments that have occurred in our city in 2016 – the state of our city is, ‘growing,’” Columbia City Mayor Ryan Daniel said in his State of the City address last month.

Daniel said the city is seeing its highest construction activity since 2007, before the economic recession.

Subdivisions Deer Chase and Cambridge Crossing have new homes with new families moving in.

And there are plans for much more.

Oakdale Ridge on South Line Street will begin construction soon. Quail Ridge Apartments on S.R. 205 is accepting new occupants. The historic Blue Bell Lofts project, which transformed an old factory into senior apartments, will have a grand opening in the coming months.

SCAN Inc., along with Biggs Development and the Columbia City Redevelopment Commission, will build more apartments at the former Eagles’ Lodge property at Van Buren and Line streets, called, “The Van Buren Flats.”

“The project looks to be transformational for our community because it will not only fill a vacant lot in our downtown, but will also add additional downtown housing to support the new businesses that are popping up,” Daniel said.

The city’s downtown is experiencing a renaissance, and Daniel said that’s thanks to the work of Sharon Geiger, Ann Fahl, Billy Reffitt and Tad Varga, of the Downtown Business Alliance, as well as the Columbia City Main Street Association and entrepreneurs.

“When businesses open up in downtown areas, studies show that the foot traffic increases the sales of businesses that were already there,” Daniel said. “As the saying goes, ‘a rising tide raises all ships.’”

Last year, the Downtown Business Alliance created the Thomas Marshall Plaza, a pocket park on Van Buren Street downtown.

“One of my favorite memories of 2016 was seeing the plaza dedicated by the State Masonic Lodge,” Daniel said. “The ceremony was truly impactful and showed the overflowing support this community has for not only the plaza itself, but the downtown as a whole.”

Also downtown, the Main Street Association held a Movie on the Square night that brought more than 500 people to the Courthouse Square. The event is expected to continue in 2017.

 

Putting in the effort

The city has made an extra effort to improve homes in the city with programs such as the Housing Authority’s owner-occupied rehabilitation program, which has given more than $57,000 in no-interest loans to residents seeking to make their homes more safe, sanitary and secure.

Columbia City water tower

The city’s new logo is displayed prominently on the freshly-painted water tower along U.S. 30.

The city is applying for grants and low-interest loans to defray the cost of the long term control plan, which is scheduled to begin construction toward the end of 2017.

The $8.5-million project includes storage basins, up-sizing sewer line and changes to combined sewer overflow points.

“By capturing these federal dollars, which are really dollars you sent to Washington, we will be able to keep rate increases to a minimum and stabilize sewer rates,” Daniel said. “It’s been a tough few years, with multiple sewer rate increases, to pay for this massive, federally mandated project, but I’m confident that the efforts that have been ongoing with our grant writer, community development director and engineering firm, we will be able complete the project on time and with a reduced cost per household.”

The electric department is working to move electrical lines underground to strengthen the grade and provide better protection in inclement weather. In 2017, the electric department will begin an automatic metering project, which will enhance the efficiency and productivity of the department.

“Customers will be able to keep better tabs on their electric usage and billing, while providing the electric department with better data to combat outages and electrical surges,” Daniel said.

The city put extra focus on enhancing the “look and feel” of its neighborhoods through upgraded sidewalks, reconstructed curbs and freshly paved roads.

“By investing in our neighborhoods, we are creating a safer atmosphere for pedestrians, while beautifying the area,” Daniel said. “This will continue to be a focus for years to come.”

 

Blossoming economy

The city’s unemployment rate is below 4 percent, meaning employers are looking to import workers into the community to fill vacant positions.

“To say our economy is on a roll is an understatement,” Daniel said.

Daniel said employers are working to develop and attract talent.

Many believe one thing that will attract new families to Whitley County is the new Columbia City High School, which will be completed in the fall of 2020.

“The new high school is the future of our community,” Daniel said.

Daniel has a goal of growing the city’s population to 10,000, and a list of ideas to improve the community and attract new residents.

“It’s time for us to be proactive, bold and focused on where our city is going in the future,” Daniel said. “With the community’s help, we’ll continue making our city a place that all families of all ages can call home.”

The Indiana University Public Policy Institute predicts that Whitley County will grow at or above 5 percent between now and 2040.

The city may consider expanding its boundaries, including growth around the new high school and commercial zones near U.S. 30.

The city has been working with INDOT on the future of U.S. 30, namely, an interstate-type freeway. Traffic on the highway is expected to increase dramatically, and officials expect more visitors to Whitley County.

The Russel and Evelyn Fahl Aquatics Facility, priced at $4 million, is expected to come to fruition in 2017, as many donors have made the park department’s dream a possibility. The new facility will replace Burnworth Pool, and will have many fun activities for children, such as splash areas and slides, as well as a competition pool. The city has submitted an application for an $820,000 grant to the Regional Cities partnership for the final piece of funding. The facility will also include an ice skating rink to allow for year-round fun.

The city’s Tree Board recently received the Gold Leaf Award from the Indiana Arborist Association, the only award given throughout the state.

Thanks to two grants from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the Tree Board received two grants to plant 27 trees in 2016 and will plant another 25 trees this year to maintain the city’s urban canopy.