Buchanan commission partners with Andrews University to consider redevelopment strategies

BUCHANAN – Buchanan City Commissioners have agreed to partner with Andrews University graduate architecture students to look at redevelopment strategies for the community. Meanwhile, commissioners have decided where they want to locate the city’s new Department of Public Works building.

The meeting was again hosted virtually due to pandemic restrictions. The nearly three-hour meeting also featured annual reports from city departments.

The Andrews University opportunity came as the result of a conversation between new Community Development Director Rich Murphy and Andrews architecture professor Andrew von Maur. Murphy worked with von Maur in the past during Murphy’s tenure in Michigan City as the chief financial and marketing officer there.

“I want to say how serendipitous this was with the timing,” Murphy said. “On my first day on the job last week, I started calling everyone in my contacts telling them about what I was doing. Andrew texted me right away that their plans to go to the Bahamas to work there had fallen through. We had a discussion of the opportunity here and how cool it would be for them to do a project in their own backyard.”

Murphy noted that von Maur and his students came to Michigan City in 2007 at a time when city officials were ready for new ventures and redevelopment.

“They were creative, young, inspiring and full of energy and had a way of getting to the heart of the matter,” he said.

“The community ended up seeing and thinking about things they hadn’t necessarily seen before with the students presenting ideas and a road map to unlock the city’s potential,” he added. “They caused excitement and investors to turn their heads to see what was going on in the city. It seems like a good time for that to happen here.”

Von Maur said his specialty is urban design and that he normally takes a group of graduate students to work with communities both in the U.S. and abroad. In this area, he and his students have worked with not only Michigan City but also with a partnership with Benton Harbor, St. Joseph and Whirlpool to study the inner harbor in the Twin Cities.

He said the goal of the Buchanan project will be to work with city officials, business owners and others to identify planning and design strategies.

“We’re proposing to collaborate and study the development potential of different properties you have,” he said. “It’s a collaborative process, we’ll spend a month digging into the issues and then put together potential and hypothetical scenarios for development in a final report. Our main interest is to be of useful service and produce something that will be beneficial, to do something that’s really needed rather than just a homework assignment.”

The arrangement between the city and Andrews will have the city paying them $3,750 for supplies and the cost of digital renderings and another $5,000 for a pedestrian friendly engineering and street design study of Front Street. That street will be the subject of a future redesign and reconstruction.

Commissioners welcomed the collaboration with Andrews. Mark Weedon said he welcomed the insights von Maur and his students will bring.

“2021 seems very promising already,” he said.

Patrick Swem said the expenditure of money for the Andrews work is warranted with all the planning efforts the city is currently undertaking.

“We’re really starting to do a deep dive into the master plan and looking at not just the downtown but the whole community,” he said. “I think this is a worthwhile spend.”

Also Monday, commissioners approved building a new Department of Public Works building on the site of its current location at the end of Clark Street. City officials had been debating the issue for the last few years and until recently had appeared to favor leasing or buying a new “spec” building being constructed by Bill and Mack Green on East Third Street.

The idea of keeping the DPW on its current site had been growing in popularity in recent months and was the consensus of both city commissioners and planning commissioners at a joint work session last week.

“There’s been discussion for years about where to put the DPW building, we’ve reached analysis paralysis, we need to make a decision,” Mayor Sean Denison said. “It seemed to me that everyone really wanted to improve the existing facilities at the current location, that’s what I away with from that meeting.”

Monday, commissioners voted unanimously to both build a new DPW on the Clark Street site and to negotiate with the Greens to lease their building short term. Commissioners said the Green building could be used to store DPW equipment while the DPW building is being renovated or replaced.

City Manager Heather Grace said the next steps will include Murphy investigating the possibility of finding grants for the project. City officials will also be looking at the design and layout of a new facility and develop some proposals in order to get some cost estimates.

City commissioners also took action in regards to other city-owned properties. City-owned properties on Elizabeth, Bluff and Railroad Streets will be put out for bid. A minimum bid, name of bidder and plans for the properties will be required and the city can reject any and all bids.

The commission ended the lease Midwest Escapes had on the Ross/Sanders building due to missed payments. The company also wanted to assign their lease to another entity. They postponed a lease renewal request from Guys and Dolls for another part of Ross/Sanders. Commissioners have been considering using that building as a museum or visitors center.

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