CHURUBUSCO — Approximately a dozen people attended the unveiling of the Churubusco Downtown Action Plan presentation Wednesday evening at Churubusco High School.
The action plan is the result of months of studies and surveys of the town and its residents, conducted by Hyett Palma Associates for the Indiana Downtown Project.
Doyle Hyett of Hyett Palma opened the program by stating that, “This is the premiere. We have a good story to tell here.” He had praise for the downtown business people and merchants, and residents who participated in the surveys and provided helpful suggestions and thoughts for the growth of the town.
Churubusco’s buildings are the assets which give the downtown its charm, noted Hyett, and he also praised the quality and quantity of shops, attention of merchants, and the very loyal downtown customer base. He said that his firm saw remarkable cooperation between downtown business owners, an active, involved Chamber of Commerce, and strong support for the school system.
“There is a strong, positive attitude and cooperation among business owners, with sharing parking spaces and referring customers to each other.”
One hundred percent of businesses returned their surveys to Hyett Palma, and sessions related to the Indiana Downtown project were well-attended.
“According to the resident survey, residents are very happy with downtown Churubusco, and they would like to see more retail business variety, and family-oriented recreation spots in town,” stated Hyett. “You have a strong downtown and a strong community here. Beauty alone is not going to make this work, however; some towns plant trees and flowers and call it a day.”
Hyett recommended more for the town.
Hyett Palma’s suggested actions for downtown Churubusco include sprucing up exterior building conditions.
Hyett suggested obtaining matching grants from the Indiana Downtown program along with any other grants that might be available. He said that business signs would make a big difference on downtown buildings, and he urged business owners to work together to set standards for the signs.
The addition of small trees, flowers, plants, benches, trash cans and lighting to the downtown area would also be beneficial. Many business owners surveyed noted that they liked what Columbia City has done to beautify its downtown, so Hyett suggested getting some ideas from that.
Hyett suggested adding lights to small trees downtown, and leaving them in the trees year-round. He said they are really very pretty during other seasons of the year (other than during the Christmas holidays), and the lights won’t kill the trees. The lights will also last a long time and can be a simple beautification.
He said that downtown business owners should leave their lights on until at least 11 p.m. year round, and make sure that shop windows are lit, clean and attractive.
In addition, downtown should have a large centerpiece, such as a town clock or a piece of sculpture, such as Oscar the Turtle.
“Make him look like Oscar on steroids,” said Hyett. “If you’re gonna be a Turtle Town, then be a Turtle Town.”
He recommended that Oscar the Turtle’s story be near the sculpture. Along with a sculpture, key chains, T-shirts, postcards and books would all be great things to sell related to Oscar.
“We couldn’t find anything to buy related to Oscar. Downtown Churubusco needs to capitalize on this.”
A museum featuring Oscar the Turtle could include the history of Oscar as well as pictures and other memorabilia related to the whole Oscar craze, in addition to a history of the town. That’s another thing Hyett thinks the town should capitalize on as Turtle Town.
As for downtown businesses, Hyett recommended growing and developing existing businesses first. He said that several business owners are ready to expand.
He said more arts and crafts shops downtown would be good, as well as an electronics shop of some sort; it doesn’t need to be a Radio Shack or name-brand store. Other suggested types of businesses were cafes, antiques, gift shops, entertainment shops, Oscar souvenirs, historical museum, and a bed-and-breakfast.
The Chamber of Commerce would be ideal to scout for businesses to attract to downtown Churubusco.
Existing Main Streets buildings should all be utilized and not allowed to remain vacant.
Parking is really important to downtown business, according to surveys of both residents and merchants, so Hyett suggested not allowing employees to park on Main Street, and instead have an employee parking lot on the next block. He doesn’t think any new parking lots need to be built, just utilize those already there.
He had noticed that the library parking lot often had just a few cars in it and asked why downtown business employees couldn’t park there.
“Designate parking spaces for library patrons and some for downtown business or employee parking.”
Hyett urged the town to “speak up” in promoting itself and disseminating information about its attractions and festivals, like Turtle Days.
“The library, government buildings, grocery stores, gas stations, Chamber of Commerce, and Turtle Days Committee all have information to disseminate, and they can do so by providing brochures, publicizing websites, and utilizing school, government, and newspaper websites to disseminate this information too.”
He urged the town to adopt a “Shop Local” campaign and publicize what’s available in Churubusco, and would like to see more downtown events. Suggestions were a kids’ day, music, talent show, downtown sidewalk sale, and a kids’ art show downtown could allow kids to fill the sidewalks and maybe streets with chalk art. Any of these events could feature vendors, music, and food.
Hyett Palma also suggested two signature events a year for the town, such as a Valentine’s Day event that would feature chocolate turtle cupcakes, turtle candy, and turtle-shaped cookies; and an event that would tie Oscar’s name with the Academy Awards on the same date as the awards show.
These ideas are all a part of what Hyett called “Image Development” for the town, one that it needs to take advantage of to help it grow.
A Downtown Retail Committee would also help, as would a Downtown Partnership.
“The renaissance of downtown Churubusco is now!” Hyett declared. “The number one reason these projects fail is when the leadership of the community fails to carry them through.”