Community Spotlight: Small Business Revolution in Wabash

Community Spotlight

“Main Streets are suited perfectly to evolve, via Placemaking, into the great destinations of the 21st century.”[1] That’s according to an article by Project for Public Spaces (PPS), and it’s a sentiment we here at Placemaking Indiana strongly believe in.

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Striking facades in downtown Wabash.

It’s true that most articles about placemaking seem to refer to projects and trends happening in great urban centers, like New York City or Chicago. But if you look closely, you’ll find that more rural and suburban towns that are also using placemaking techniques to revitalize their neighborhoods, especially their downtowns and their Main Streets.

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A clear way-finding sign, highlighting important destinations in Wabash.

A fantastic example of this is Wabash, IN. In May 2016, Wabash won the Small Business Revolution on Main Street contest and a prize of $500,000. This prize will be split between the city for physical improvements, and local small business owners for marketing assistance and physical improvement to their business locations. This is a pretty exciting accomplishment for a small town of 11,000, but what makes this award really impressive is the fact that it was based on votes by the community, rather than a panel of judges.

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A sign from the recent Small Business Revolution competition, one of many across the downtown.

In total, Wabash garnered 95,000 votes (for a town of 11,000 – wow!!), which shows a level of engagement and support that many small towns only dream about (big towns too for that matter). If you haven’t already, you should check out their submission for the competition here.

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More great facades – everything looks so sharp!

The Small Business Revolution award and the improvements it will support are only the latest placemaking endeavors taken by Wabash. In both 2012 and 2014, Wabash won Place Based Investment awards from the Office of Community and Rural Affairs and in 2014, was designated a Stellar Community [2]. Using those and other awards, the City of Wabash and its partner organizations have been making upgrades all across the downtown area.

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One end of a refurbished alley, with a store front, lights and seating tucked within.

Business facades have been (or are being) refurbished. Bike racks have been installed and sidewalks improved. Murals and wayfinding signs can be found on many streets. An alleyway has been updated to be more welcoming and to hold special events.

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One of many murals that can be found around the downtown area.

New stores have opened while old favorites have given themselves “face-lifts.” It was largely thanks to the strength and support of local small business owners that Wabash won the award from the Small Business Revolution competition.

And it isn’t just small businesses that are pulling their weight in Wabash. Local organizations like the Ford Meter Box Foundation and the Honeywell Foundation provide strong support for the arts, education and other efforts to revitalize the downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods.

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A meter box cover from the local Ford Meter company. If the style seems familiar, it’s probably because the company has worked all over the country. The famous New Orleans water meter covers are from here!

Wabash is working hard to leverage its assets, along with the creative energy of its residents and business owners, to develop a “great destination for the 21st century.” For more information on what’s happening in Wabash, you can check out the  websites below. You should also keep an eye out for a web series about Wabash that debuts in September from Deluxe, the company that created the Small Business Revolution.

Wabash Marketplace, Inc.

Wabash County Tourism & Visitors Bureau

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And for more inspiration on how small towns can and have revitalized their downtowns, check out these articles:

CityLab: The Death -and Life – of Small Downtown America

Citizen’s Institute on Rural Design: Sorry I didn’t read your “rural is dying” article

 

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