Muncie IN saw growth in 2013 with More to Come in 2014

Cranes return to Muncie landscape, New leadership for higher education in 2014

By Rick Yencer

MUNCIE, INDIANA (NEWS) - A resurgence of investment and development brought progress to Muncie in 2013  and 2014 promises to bring more with new leadership in higher and public education.

No one could imagine construction cranes dotting the skies over the community until new apartments were built along McGalliard Road, a new $54 million apartment, parking and retail center rose in the University Village and more renovation of landmarks at Ball State University.

 In all, more than $250 million in new investment can be found as Mayor Dennis Tyler continues to improve both of the quality of life and place by bring new jobs and development to the community.

Even Saturday, as a drive through town found, workers were framing apartments at the Village Promenade, some roofers were working on that expansion at Gethesame United Methodist Church and other laborers were forming the foundation to the new Culver's on McGalliard Road.

And as community leaders point out, that resurgence is just the start with a new $25 million hotel that will be a training center for those with disability will be built downtown in 2015 besides a new retail center near Muncie Mall that will be anchored by popular sports name Dick's will be built.

That investment is the top story in the community in 2013 with the next episode next year including more besides major changes in public and higher education.

Ball State University President Joann Gora just announced her retirement after a decade of bringing world attention and more than a half billion dollars in investment to the university. And Muncie Community Schools is going to one high school next year after a bitter fight over closing Southside High School. Parents and others have promised a new school board and new school leaders as a result of school consolidation and continued financial problems that could mean the end of bus service and teacher layoffs.

Tyler, a former state lawmaker and retired firefighter,  prides himself representing everyone in the community, and continues to bring the community together to improve the community.

"Job creation and retention with decent paying jobs will continue to be a top priority," said the mayor. 

Having a job is the best opportunity to solve poverty which continues to be a problem in the community, judging from free and reduced lunches at school and among the lowest median incomes in the state.

Add the community's meth addiction and growing numbers of vacant houses and businesses, Tyler knows government besides business must create more jobs to continue to decrease unemployment that hangs around 8 percent.

Lots of construction will be seen in 2014, community leaders say, as government plans to build more sidewalks and streets. Work continues to renovate city hall and a new bathhouse at Prairie Creek Lake will open next year.

Ball State adds millions of dollars in construction work to the local economy as two big project, renovation of the Teacher's College and rebuilding Johnson Hall will finish up next year.

With Gora's retirement, one of Muncie's largest institutional employers will see change with a new president. The BSU board of trustees is just beginning to search for a new leader and is spending $150,000 with a nationally recognized search firm to attract someone that will build on Gora's legacy.

Hollis Hughes Jr., board of trustees president, said the aim was to keep moving Ball State forward as it has to compete with Big Ten schools in the state like Indiana and Purdue and a large parochial school, Notre Dame.

A leader at Ball State generally brings their team to play and look for changes across the board, whether it is in academics and sports.

That change will hit the biggest public school system in the community, Muncie schools, that has been a source of conflict and consolidation in 2013.

The school system first announced it could no ,longer afford two high schools and then said it did not have the money to bus students to school. Taxpayers rejected more taxes for the schools and now the chief financial officer, Mark Burkhart, intends to retire in 2014 while angry parents intend to retire the school board.

School Supt. Tim Heller insisted at a recent gather that he was committed to make the school consolidation at Central a success. And he hoped the closing of Southside would not mean mass layoff of teachers and staff since the same number of students still have to be educated.

Muncie schools has improved academically in recent years, handing out iPads and getting Central back to an A rating from the state. Heller and others know that students must be prepared for a competitive job market and plans to get Vincennes University to help with a college prep program.

That job market usually starts at home and Muncie has seen plenty of growth in minimum wage jobs whether at Walmart or McDonald's. 

But the biggest private employer in Muncie, Sallie Mae, continues to see growth and just had a job fair to add about 100 more jobs.

Jay Julian, president of the Muncie-Delaware Chamber of Commerce, recently pointed out how having the largest student financial company in the community helped grow the economy. 

The same is said for Muncie's other large institutional employer, IU Health, that recent saw a statewide reduction in force, but still attracts many professionals in health and medicine.

 Tyler pointed out all of Muncie's assets have brought that new investment and development that did not even look at the community a couple years ago.

"That says alot about where we are today," said the mayor. "2014 will be a very exciting year for Muncie."