Residents Gather to Discuss the Future of Downtown Knox

This is the one of locations discussed at last night's meeting. This is the old Everett's Drug Store/movie theatre building

Approximately three dozen people attended the first meeting called last night to gain ideas for improving downtown Knox.

The meeting was chaired by Mayor Rick Chambers and Gene Blastic from the Starke County Economic Development Foundation.

Many of the comments had to do with buildings that have fallen into disrepair. Knox City Councilman, Greg Matt, said it’s obvious the City Council is going to have to create ordinances with more stringent codes to force the building owners into action.

“I hate it when we have to pass an ordinance, but when people don’t do the responsible things, you end up with an ordinance,” said Matt. “40 years ago, this wasn’t an issue downtown because we had business people who took care of their businesses. If you’re a property owner downtown, you need to take care of your property.”

Councilman, Jeff Berg, talked about creating a plan for the downtown area.

“In the end, I know it’s going to take a grand plan for the City of Knox, but it’s going to take everybody to be on board with it as well.”

Tabitha Dilner returned to Knox after living in Illinois. She is promoting a non-profit organization called Sunshine Studio to help in the effort.

“We take the young ones and we take a three step process where they explore the community, look at the pros and the cons and find something they can work on and then implement it.”

To start, Dilner proposed that students in the school display artwork in the windows of some of these dilapidated storefronts.

Many in the audience said property owners are not going to fix up their properties without a way to re-coup the investment. Here is Mayor Chambers on that thought.

“Well, you can’t really blame the property owners,” he said. “It’s hard economic times and it’s hard on everybody. Everybody’s going through the same thing. I think if we set some standards and enforce those standards, that’ll be a step.”

One building owner who has kept up his buildings on Shield Street is Carl Wells.

“We’ve got six buildings over on the other block and the tenants have been in there for almost 30 years and that’s six tenants. So, that tells you a story right there. If you take care of them, they’re going to take care of you. I’ve sent people over to rent a building and the building might be in bad shape, but they won’t fix it up. It just sits there.”

Gene Blastic, representing the Economic Development Foundation, was asked if he thought the city and Redevelopment Committee could meet their time line on doing something at 2 North Main Street.

“Probably not, but we’re going to stay close to their efforts and we will keep them informed of what we’re thinking. If we make a decision here in the next three, four or five months, they’re certainly going to be the first to know what we’re going to plan to do. If there’s any issues with that, I’m sure that we’ll take those into account and deal with them. We feel that 2 North Main, the old theatre building, requires some attention within the next year. We just don’t feel like we can just let it sit there for another year.”

Economic Development Foundation Executive Director, Charles Weaver, was in attendance and said making the building at 2 North Main acceptable for long term occupancy by the Foundation would cost a minimum $350,000.

Those in attendance left the meeting enthused, and ready to “dig-in” to make the downtown viable for growth, and appealing to those living and visiting here.