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Downtown Terre Haute. (Regional Report: West).

Out-of-towners don't tend to consider Terre Haute--French for "high land"--a significant vacation hot spot.

Not yet anyway.

Mayor Judy Anderson and other civic leaders hope to change the perceptions of Indiana's 10th-largest city with a five-year initiative designed to redefine the area's downtown into a thriving business and recreation center.

"We think we're sort of unique, but we've been stale for far too long," Anderson says. "And we're ready to take off."

Last year, the mini-metropolis nestled on a plateau alongside the Wabash River was chosen by the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns Foundation as one of 10 "pilot cities" to take part in a statewide downtown-revitalization project. The foundation put city officials in touch with HyettPalma, an Alexandria, Va.-based consulting firm that studied Terre Haute and, through numerous interviews and town meetings, developed a "Downtown Action Agenda."

Steve Witt, executive director of the Terre Haute Department of Redevelopment, says the study focused on renovating vacant historical buildings and adding more specialty shops, offices, restaurants and housing. "A lot of stuff has been done or is in the process," Witt says.

The biggest project is the $17 million restoration of the Terre Haute House, a high-rise built in 1927 at the heart of the downtown area. "You can't talk about downtown Terre Haute without that building," says Doyle Hyett, co-owner of HyettPalma.

In its glory days, the Terre Haute House was a grand hotel that housed dances, conferences and formal get-togethers. But the nine-story building has been vacant for 30 years, and recent proposals for reuse have fallen short on financing and vision--until now.

Witt says for the past 18 months, a local developer has been working to raise funds for the building. And, Anderson says, there is talk of making the Terre Haute House into a Marriott hotel.

"This is more than an idea," says Witt. "But it's not reality yet."

Witt says another building of concern is the post office, another historic landmark located south of town. With the help of a local group, city officials are working to give the building a facelift. Along the same street, city officials acquired $18 million to build a parking garage.

Garmong Development Co. got the downtown development ball rolling in 2001 with 8,000 square feet of Class A commercial space off of Eighth Street, says Lee Akers, the company s director of marketing. "When all is said and done, we will have invested $3 to 4 million in buildings," Akers says. "That's a small chunk, but it's something."

He says Garmong hopes to eventually build condominiums, apartments and larger office space for a headquarters operation. "Terre Haute lacks corporate headquarters operations right now," Akers says. "We want to attract the best businesses possible."

Meanwhile, Thompson Thrift Development Inc. is renovating an outdated Greyhound bus terminal. The 10,000-square-foot building should be completed by January 2003.

The firm also is bringing back to life the 82-year-old Esten Fuson Cadillac building at Ninth Street and Wabash Avenue that has been vacant since 1997. The $2 million restoration project has already begun on three floors of the building. Thompson Thrift plans to move its offices into the third floor, while MMS Architects and Engineers will move to the second floor.

In 2000, Thompson Thrift officials purchased the Salomon Smith Barney/Wells Fargo building. Empty for years in the heart of downtown on Wabash Avenue, the 6,700-square-foot building now holds an investment firm and a mortgage banking company.

A major focal point for Terre Haute's downtown is the budding arts community. The action agenda calls for an arts corridor that would be the site of festivals, public arts displays and quirky shops. "Terre Haute has the added benefit of a university nearby," Hyett says of the adjacent Indiana State University campus.

Tara Lane, director of the Terre Haute Urban Enterprise Association says the arts corridor located on Seventh Street has many possibilities: two libraries, a historic movie palace, the Swope Art Museum and ISU's Center for Performing and Visual Arts. "What's crazy is that it took someone from the outside to say, 'Hey, you've got all of this,'" Lane says.

In 1999, the Swope Art Museum a 1901 Renaissance revival building lauded for its late 19th and early 20th century American art collection, received a $1.7 million renovation. Funding also was made available to revamp other parts of the arts corridor with new sidewalks, public light fixtures, benches and other amenities, Lane says.

Steps already have been taken to assist businesses with a revolving loan fund, offering small loans for new businesses at a lower interest rate not offered by traditional bank loans. "With the Honey Creek shopping mall, Super Wal-Mart and Kmart, folks didn't have a reason to come downtown," Witt says. "Hopefully, that will change."
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Author:Hoefer, Heather
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2002
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