TERRE HAUTE —
We hope visitors see a Terre Haute striving to honor its past and reach for its future
An exciting weekend is about to unfold in Terre Haute.
Visitors from across the country will flow into the city to experience activities surrounding the unveiling of the bronze statue of Indiana State University basketball icon Larry Bird. Some of those guests carry famous names as former teammates, coaches, rival players and writers connected with Larry’s years as a Springs Valley High School standout, a Sycamore, a Boston Celtic, a 1992 “Dream Team” member, and an Indiana Pacers coach and executive.
Some visitors are his longtime fans, former Terre Hauteans and ISU alums. Some may be visiting town for the first time since Larry left ISU, or ever.
Downtown Terre Haute has changed in many ways since Larry graduated and headed east to Boston in 1979.
For starters, Hulman Center looks different inside. Amidst the banners hanging on its walls are two retired jersey numbers — Larry’s 33 and another former Sycamore great and NBA player Duane Klueh’s 54. The squishy Tartan surface Larry played on from ’76 to ’79 was replaced by a hardwood court in 1989. In 2008, the university gave the floor a name — Nellie and John Wooden Court, in honor of the former Sycamore coach and his beloved wife.
As the new statue, those lofty jerseys and the Wooden Court moniker show, Terre Haute has made progress in putting its past and future in proper perspective. Significant slices of local history are being blended into the 21st-century culture.
The city’s iconic Crossroads of America intersection provides the perfect example. Shops and eateries wear colorful storefronts along the southwest corner of Seventh Street and Wabash Avenue.
Yes, the fabled, old Terre Haute House is gone, having deteriorated for decades on the northeast corner and wisely torn down in 2005. That space is now lively, though, occupied by the Hilton Garden Inn, with a companion hotel, the Candlewood Suites, across Wabash in the refurbished Tribune Building.
On the northwest Crossroads corner, tourists will see a distinguished looking bronzed guy, jotting down notes and sitting on a bench. It’s Terre Haute poet Max Ehrmann, whose peace poem, “Desiderata,” is an international classic. A visitor can sit beside Max and look east down Wabash to see the spectacular, 26,000-square-foot Terre Haute Children’s Museum, which adjoins the Candlewood Suites and opened in 2010. Over Max’s shoulders sits the ISU Scott College of Business in the former Federal Building, beautifully remodeled and dedicated in 2012.
Max’s vantage point is part of the cool, sculpture-lined Seventh Street Arts Corridor, which leads north to Cherry Street and the ISU campus.
And, when folks tour the university grounds, they’ll find the place looks far different from the 1970s. Traffic no longer buzzes through the heart of campus. It feels like a place to stay and learn, rather than pass through. It’s growing, too. Enrollment hit 12,488 this fall, its highest since 1972.
In its master plan, a roadmap to the future, ISU intends to place outdoor athletic facilities west of Third Street along the Wabash riverfront. ISU’s plan fits with a communitywide reconnection with the Wabash. On Saturday, visitors will find local folks pulling invasive shrubs from the riverside, where the City of Terre Haute is building a scenic, one-mile trail south of Fairbanks Park. The work is part of the wildly successful 2013 Year of the River celebration, an awareness-raising project that illuminates the Wabash’s cultural, economic and historic impact.
Terre Haute has been busy. While acknowledging some lingering shortcomings, the town hopes visitors like what they see.