Walnut Street in DWNTWN Muncie IN sees rebuild

New rules, permits for outdoor entertainment, drinking and dining proposed

By Rick Yencer

MUNCIE, INDIANA  (NEWS)  - A daring plan to make DWNTWN Walnut Street accommodate those with disability and others who drink and dine will change the landscape of the heart of the city.

Mayor Dennis Tyler unveiled the latest plan Wednesday to redo Walnut that will involve rebuilding the street scape, adding passable sidewalks, allowing drinking and dining areas and still have two-way traffic on the four blocks DWNTWN.

And the city is proposed new rules to operate dining and drinking in public right of way that will involve a government permit and could cost bars and restaurants hundreds of dollars a year in permit fees.

All of this is happening after the federal government demanded the city make downtown sidewalks accessible to the disabled. As restaurants and bars opened outdoor seating and gated it, the obstruction prevented those with walkers and wheelchairs from passing.

Now the city is offering an ambitious plan developed by Phil Tevis and Colby Gray of Flatland Resources to redraw the sidewalks next to building, move drinking and dining toward the street and still have parking and two-way traffic on Walnut.

Large gateways also were offered by Tevis to mark downtown Walnut illustrating that "it was a very special place."

The current brick sidewalk will be replaced with brick  making an 11 feet sidewalk followed by an 8-feet engagement area for tables and chairs. Building frontage where there is no drinking and dining will have on street parking, and Tevis offered a plan to move parking and seating for events and other activities.

And all those activities will be regulated and permitted by government. 

Marta Moody, director of the Metropolitan Plan Commission, said new rules for the downtown to prohibit grandfathering of any current use.

"We wipe the slate clean," said Tevis.

That means seating at Heroet's, Vera Mae's and other downtown bars comes out and new areas are created closer to the street with government approval.

And Moody suggested fees for permitting that use that could range in the hundreds of dollars yearly for food and alcohol vending.

Some downtown property owners at the meeting in city hall wondered about snow removal and deliveries, but others wanted a price tag and how much they would pay for the project.

Tevis insisted the four block rebuild of Walnut would be under $5 million, including infrastructure and utility work.

That seems low, by comparison with Roseburg, Ore. that rebuilt their downtown street scape five years ago for $28 million.

The city already is spending $8 million to build a new 400 space parking garage for the proposed Courtyard by Marriott And another $15 million is being spent on new storm sewers and a canal  to drain the downtown.

Tevis said financing was still being sought although downtown officials said the work would begin this fall and be done by 2015 when the new hotel and parking garage are finished.

Steve Fennmore, who co-owns Vera Mae's believed the plan was doable if all property owners bought in and supported it.

Attorney Frank Brinkman, who owns a building on Walnut where be works and lives, was concerned about public services, whether it was snow removal or maintaining the sidewalks near his home.

The plan and rules for it will have to approved by Muncie City Council along with financing. But like other recent downtown projects, it will be on a fast track to ensure work is down by 2015.



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