TERRE HAUTE —
Revitalization seems to be the main word describing the Vermillion County city of Clinton these days.
With multiple building renovation and construction projects in the works around the city, Mayor Jack Gilfoy Jr. has been busy working with local, state and federal agencies to get some buildings torn down, some repurposed, new homes built and some flooding under control.
“It was just to the point where we had to do something,” Gilfoy said of the blighted and neglected properties sprinkled around the city.
Gilfoy told the Tribune-Star on Friday that it was his plan to revitalize the town when he chose to run for mayor two years ago. He had been on the city’s Board of Works, so he was familiar with the workings of local government, and he saw potential in some partnerships that could improve the look of the city best known for its annual Little Italy Festival.
One of the first projects to come together was the restoration of a 1904 railroad depot, located a couple of blocks southeast of city hall.
That building — unique because it is L-shaped — was heavily damaged by a fire about two year ago. It lost its roof, but the brick walls remained. Through a partnership with the Indiana Department of Transportation to receive Transportation Enhancement Act Funding, and the Little Italy Festival Town (LIFT) organization, the Railroad Freight Depot Restoration Project will see the building preserved as a police and fire museum for the town.
Tony Majors and a crew from MSI Construction were at the depot Friday continuing their portion of the project. They have already poured a new concrete floor to replace the rotten wooden floor of the building. They’ve constructed new sliding wooden doors through which freight was transported into and out of the depot, reusing the original hardware. And a new roof was constructed.
“The work they’re doing on this building, they’ve saved this for a long time,” Gilfoy said.
He remembers as a child seeing freight offloaded from the nearby railroad tracks, and he said passenger trains also picked up people heading to Chicago.
The building’s exterior required a lot of tuckpointing to fix the mortar around the bricks, said project engineer Keith Wallace of HWC Engineering. He pointed out that many of the knee braces holding up the eaves of the roof were saved and restored to keep the authentic look of the building.
It is a $381,000 project, Gilfoy said, with $65,000 kicked in by LIFT. The city already has two historic fire trucks that will go into the museum. One of the trucks was the first one purchased by the city.
“It was going to be demolished if the funding couldn’t come together,” Gilfoy said of the depot.
With the installation of the windows this fall, the preservation of the building should be complete, Majors said.
It will then be up to LIFT to raise funds to install plumbing, lighting, drywall and a restroom in the next phase of the project.
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A block to the west of the depot on Main Street, another project is in progress to secure a vacant lot.
Two dilapidated buildings were demolished recently after being purchased by the city in a tax sale.
Gilfoy said the former owner of the two buildings — located between a perky flower shop and the city’s downtown bowling alley — did not pay property taxes on the buildings for several years, and he had filled the buildings with junk that was ruined when the roof collapsed. After purchasing the buildings, a contractor was hired to tear down and haul away the debris.
On Friday, Leftie Gurney of Leftie’s Construction was installing chain link fence around the property because of the uneven ground and work that remains at the site.
Gilfoy said that an old basement was found on the property, with an old tunnel that had collapsed but appeared to run under the street. That tunnel has been filled in. A masonry company will start work next week to seal holes in the wall of the neighboring bowling alley building, and the front edge will be capped to make the brickwork even.
The lot will then go up for sale for possible development, the mayor said.
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Walking north along the west side of Main Street, Gilfoy pointed out that a private contractor restored one of the major buildings on that block about three years ago.
Tim Cottrell purchased the building about three years ago and renovated the two-story building to have apartments on the upper level, with retail space on the street level. A chiropractic office is located in a portion of the building, and a fitness club operates as Cottrell’s Fitness Corner in the other portion of the former grocery store.
And just a few more blocks away is a clear lot where the former Clinton High School used to stand. Next door, the school gymnasium building has been repurposed as a daycare center, a senior meal site for the Area 7 Agency on Aging and Disabled, and the gymnasium is still used.
The old school building was torn down a few months ago, and just some sitework remains to clear the lot.
The property has been gifted to the city’s fire department as the location for a new fire station.
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Two long-abandoned factories in Clinton are in the process of being converted into apartments through an economic development project to clean up two blighted properties.
A few months ago, Gilfoy announced that Herman & Kittle Properties Inc. are taking on the $8.2 million project to turn a former garment factory on South Fourth Street into 12 apartments. One of the buildings will be demolished, along with all the “stuff” that had accumulated inside it for years.
The city also purchased those buildings at a tax sale, using LIFT as the non-profit agency. The owner had accumulated $160,000 in delinquent property taxes, which had not been paid since 1998, Gilfoy said.
The city is also working with the West Central Indiana Economic Development District to create a tax increment financing district that will create a funding mechanism to pay for improvements, such as sidewalks and street paving in that area.
Gilfoy said the city and LIFT will be reimbursed by the project financing for the purchase of the property, and the city and LIFT will receive $100,000 as a development fee that can also be used for local improvements.
“This project is not costing the city a dime,” Gilfoy said.
Across town, Herman and Kittle will also develop a former plastics factory site by tearing down the dilapidated building and constructing 46 apartment units. The property will also have a dog park, playground for children, a garden, and some garage space for rent.
Once that site is in development, Gilfoy said, he is hopeful that another company that has expressed interest in a neighboring site will also want to develop that property.
“This has been a four-way partnership to get this done,” Gilfoy said. “Without all of us working together — the city, West Central, LIFT, and Herman & Kittle — it would never have happened.”
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Back in the neighborhood of the former garment factory, another housing project is well underway.
Four rental homes are being constructed at the corner of Eighth and Ash streets on the site of an abandoned mobile home park.
The city worked with Michael Booe of Community Action Program Inc. of Western Indiana to get that site cleared for the new project. A neighboring house was also purchased, renovated and given a new roof to become a rental unit.
“It’s really cleaned this corner up,” Gilfoy said of the $560,000 project.
Nine abandoned trailers had to be removed from the site, and the city’s investment will be in the upgrade of a nearby alley serving the properties.
“Most of the houses around here are well-kept,” Gilfoy said of the neighborhood, and the local appreciation of the property improvement. “This was just an eyesore.”
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Another city improvement project needed since the 1930s, but only recently undertaken, has been flood control for Feather Creek — a waterway that runs through the town to empty into the Wabash River.
The Army Corps of Engineers out of Louisville, Ky., became involved in the project after seeing that community members were serious about wanting flood control. A lot of work has already occurred, with rip-rap stone stabilizing the banks in various places and new stone pilings to be installed to stop erosion keep the creek open to handle flood water.
The project will likely wrap up in September, Gilfoy said.
A recent downpour that dumped four-inches of rain on the city tested the improvements already made on the creek. While the now-dry creekbed filled up with groundwater, no homes were flooded, Gilfoy said.
A different water problem turned up in the city a couple of months ago.
What appeared to be a water leak around a former water fountain in Sportland Park turned out to be a near-geyser of unknown origin one Friday afternoon.
After digging down to search for the source, thought to be a busted water line, city officials found a spring flooding a former coal mine was overflowing.
The water created its own river along a park street, Gilfoy said, but city workers used a backhoe to dig a trench to a nearby waterway.
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources investigated the source of the water and determined that it could be coming from miles away, Gilfoy said. A remedy will come through a project with the DNR that will direct the water out of the sports park and cover an open waterway.
The water project will fit in with an improvement project in the park to add playground equipment and work on the restroom facility, Gilfoy said.
And if that doesn’t sound like enough projects going on in Clinton, the city also has a state-mandated Combined Sewer Overflow project estimated to cost $10 million during the next 20 years.
The first and second phases of the project — costing $1.2 million — are in the works, Gilfoy said.
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The citizens of Clinton seem to be receptive to all the projects going on to improve their community, Gilfoy said. The local United Methodist Church has already offered to have an appreciation dinner for the city employees and their families this fall. The city installed a new handicap sidewalk access ramp outside the church.
“We want to work with people,” Gilfoy said of projects that help the community. “Both the fire and police chiefs help on cleanup days, and they are active in projects.”
The city has also offered to haul away limbs and tree trimmings if people will clean up their properties and set the debris curbside.
“I think the people see that we are adamant, and we are sincere,” he said of the local government team working in the city.
When he decided to run for the mayor’s office, Gilfoy said he worked with a team that includes council president Dean Strohm, council members Bob Alexander and Lavonna Mattick, Jim Bekkering and Bob Hoggatt, and Scott Miller on the board of works.
“We work hard, and we try to stay focused,” Gilfoy said.
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.