MOUNT VERNON, Ind. (AP) - Visitors to Mount Vernon have long been treated to a spectacular Ohio River view stretching far into the distance.
The river is a backdrop for downtown development that city officials say could bring some equally spectacular results. A riverfront park featuring an amphitheater, picnic areas and splash park was finished in the fall. A three-story, $8 million residential and commercial building called The Landing, facing the Ohio, will be complete within a year.
John Tucker, Mount Vernon's mayor for five years, said the two projects were years in the making and will give downtown a needed lift. Mount Vernon's 2011 population was 6,639; it has been slipping.
"You think about 100 more people living and shopping down here," Tucker said last week on the town's riverfront. "If you walk down Main Street today, I guarantee you won't see 100 people."
Mount Vernon's Ohio River overlook for years was partially obscured by a pair of silos. Before any significant development on the river could begin, Tucker said, the silos needed to disappear. Mount Vernon received a $300,000 grant through the lieutenant governor's office, and a private fundraising drive brought $250,000 more.
"That speaks highly of this community," Tucker told the Evansville Courier & Press .
The large sums enabled the town to not only remove the unsightly silos, but also work on its new park. The amphitheater has seating for about 350 people, plus a grass seating area. A concession and storage building is yet to be built.
The stage "was designed to accommodate the Evansville Philharmonic," said Andrew Myszak of the architectural firm Myszak and Palmer of Vincennes, Ind., designer of both the park and The Landing.
Town officials hope to see an orchestra performance join a list of downtown activities that was growing even before the amphitheater, splash area and other amenities were finished.
Tucker said about 60 festivals and events have been held downtown in his years as mayor, including River Days, a summer festival that started in 2008, and Christmas on Main Street, which began two years ago. Mount Vernon's riverfront has noted the mobile Vietnam Veterans Memorial, an Indianapolis Colts caravan stop and LST 325 visit, along with fireworks shows and classic car displays.
But Tucker said Mount Vernon has yet to reap the full benefit of its new park, since it was not finished until November. By the time downtown events resume in spring and summer, construction of The Landing will be in full swing.
Developer Flaherty & Collins of Indianapolis wants to wrap up the project in a year so that investors can take full advantage of tax credits available, construction manager Joe Roberts said. Fifth Third Bank is among those investors.
The first floor will include 8,000 square feet of commercial space. The complex will have 46 affordable apartments for people at least 55 years old, and six condominiums available to anyone.
Myszak said the building's designs "reflect the aesthetics of downtown buildings. It's a modern interpretation of historic structures. The views will be phenomenal from second or third floor balconies. It also will have a rooftop terrace."
Roberts managed a larger downtown housing development project at Muncie, Ind., that took several years to complete. "It sure changed the downtown there," he said, adding that Mount Vernon's project, though smaller, could have the same kind of impact.
Tucker said the new development projects reflect a strong desire by Mount Vernon residents to improve downtown. As part of that effort, he said the Mount Vernon Common Council has taken up consideration of an ordinance aimed at giving the city more authority to remove vacant and dilapidated structures.
"There's a lot of excitement," Tucker said. "This is the catalyst for economic development in our downtown area, to encourage people to locate here."
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