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What will the Albion of tomorrow look like?

ALBION — Tucked away at the back of a desk drawer in the Albion New Era office was a yellowed newspaper, folded and rather fragile. Upon inspection, it proved to be an interesting find. It was pages eight and nine of The Kendallville News-Sun, dated Aug. 25, 1978 — more than 36 years ago. Exactly who put those pages in the desk drawer isn’t known, but from its content, it is understandable why. They outlined someone’s concept of how downtown Albion buildings might look in the future — creating a vibrant business community.

Those yellowed pages were filled with drawings of an artist’s conception of what downtown Albion might look like in both the ‘near’ future and ‘blue sky’ future 30 years hence. Text accompanying these drawings had these two headlines: “Face-lift proposed for Albion,” and “Birds’ eye view shows dynamic Albion of tomorrow.” No writer was credited, and there was no information regarding the source of the information — making me delve into other sources from the same time period.

In an account of an Albion Chamber of Commerce dinner in the May 10, 1978, edition of the Albion New Era, it said that the program was presented by Malinda Henning, employee of the Region IIIA Coordinating Council. Henning had been working with the Pride and Progress group in Angola on plans to restore, rebuild, beautify and in other ways make Angola a place attractive to its residents and visitors. The article went on to state that “interested persons of the area are hoping a similar project can be undertaken for Albion. All of this is part of the dream that many of us have for the preservation of what we have here, what we can do to attract visitors and what we can do with them with they arrive. the limited parking facilities of the courthouse area are always a topic of concern. Some business places have taken it upon themselves to provide parking for their employees and customers. When employees car park away from the obviously convenient spots, it at once frees those spaces for visitors.”

On Aug. 2, 1978, according to the Albion New Era, the Albion Town Board was shown drawings for Albion’s future outlook.

Henning was there, armed with drawings of downtown Albion. She explained that these drawings show Albion as it was at that time, and how it could be in the “near future” and the “blue sky future.” The drawings gave ideas to make Albion an attractive and flourishing retail center. She encouraged the merchants and townspeople to “fix up, clean up and paint up” existing buildings. Tree planting was suggested, with an emphasis placed on fixing up the rear entrances to businesses so they would be as palatable to the eye as the fronts. Angle parking on some of the side streets was proposed as a way to make easier access to the downtown area. An idea out in the future was for restaurants and coffee houses on rooftops. Along with this, more crosswalks such as the one at Excel Furniture would make a mall effect between the various retail stores. She also had ideas for relocating the library, leaving the one on North York Street to be occupied by county offices.

Henning made a return visit to the Albion Chamber of Commerce meeting on Sept. 14 to follow up on the work that she had been doing.

It was reported on the Sept. 27,1978, edition of the Albion New Era that, following a Chamber of Commerce meeting, the downtown-uptown redevelopment program was “seemingly underway, and president Ed Sprague, promised to name committees to follow through on the program and help owners of buildings get started.” The article went on to note that, “It was obvious that this will be a chain-reaction operation.” Albion National Bank was offering lower-cost interest rates for town improvement — with each proposal considered based upon merits of plans, ideas and possibilities.

The two articles in The News-Sun provided more detailed information regarding Henning’s recommendations, which were apparently determined by some type of survey or other means of securing comments from the general public. In addition to those already mentioned, Henning suggested that county government should consolidate its operations and vacate storefronts it was renting, making them available for retail businesses. She suggested that if the church (Catholic) should decide to move rather than expand at its present location, the building could be used as a community center. Crosswalks could extend across York Street along the square to limit this space to pedestrians and parking. Giving the area a mall-type atmosphere would tie together the historical architecture of the old jail and courthouse. The alley between the church and the old jail could be created and landscaped to complete this link and to maintain the concept of government offices being surrounded by a village green.

Henning apparently suggested that residential buildings interspersed in the business area should be maintained for their architectural and historical interest. The interiors could be converted into professional offices. For instance, the home on the northeast corner of Orange and Jefferson streets could be linked with the concrete block building beside it (former Dr. Nash home and clinic). Parking could be developed on the north side. This complex should be remodeled as a medical clinic. A much-needed facility would be provided at a lower expense than a new building, with easy access to the elderly, close to local drug stores and wouldn’t change the atmosphere of downtown. Other residences could be used for professions that are currently located in good retail sites.

Hotel accommodations were also proposed in Henning’s report — as was a fine-dining restaurant. At the time of this report, storefronts in downtown Albion were either empty or being used for storage, and second floors were also vacant which could be apartments. Henning suggested that unique alley shops would be established in the sides and backs of buildings that were empty — which should bring people in to shop. She also stressed the importance of keeping residential properties in the downtown area because people living in them would contribute to the success of downtown businesses.

In general, Henning recommended that property owners restore existing buildings rather than replace them with new structures – and preserving the Victorian-era look. The elimination of unsightly trash and equipment in the rear of businesses was also encouraged.

Those familiar with Albion are aware that some of the recommendations made almost 36 years ago were implemented. Some problems that the 1978 proposal identified still exist — and likely for the same reasons.

Courthouse Square has been beautified. However, landscaping must be maintained on a regular basis. Currently, plans call for adding an irrigation system to keep the lawn in better condition. Thanks to the work of the Albion S.T.A.R. Team members, Albion’s Courthouse Square and adjacent areas have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Over time, many downtown business owners have invested their own funds to maintain and upgrade their buildings. Some have not.

In recent years, the Albion Redevelopment Commission has made grants available for facade improvements in the downtown business community. Many business owners have taken advantage of these grants — and the results are satisfying. Many of those projects also received grants from Albion’s S.T.A.R. Team. With help from Indiana Landmarks, the S.T.A.R. Team has recently acquired the Albion Opera House — hopefully saving it from demolition, either by selling it to a party interested in restoring it, or perhaps taking on the restoration project itself with assistance from the community.

As part of its work, the Albion S.T.A.R. Team has completed an inventory of the downtown business community — complete with photographs of both the front and back of each structure. This inventory could be a starting point for a renewed push for downtown revitalization. However, few can’t do the work alone. It will take many working together to fully revitalize Albion.

These are all starting points for action. Who will step forward to lead the charge?

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