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Muncie business owners want Village clean, safe

– With a $60 million commercial development underway in the Village near Ball State University, business owners in the area have told Mayor Dennis Tyler they need the city’s help dealing with more than 500 students who will live in new apartments there.

Business owners including Whitney Stump, owner of the Be Here Now music venue, Lucas Smelser of Pita Pit, Dill Street bar owner Phil Wills and Scott Wise of Scotty’s Brewhouse joined in endorsing a letter to Tyler and members of the city’s board of public works and safety.

The merchants ask for fixes ranging from police patrols on foot to crosswalks to better trash receptacles for the area frequented by students.

Stump met recently with Tyler and spoke to the works board Wednesday, when he delivered the letter. He referred to the $55 million Village Promenade, the two-building, 300,000-plus-square-foot apartment and commercial project wrapped around a $5 million city-owned parking garage that’s under construction at the site of the former University Square complex.

“Building that development in itself is not going to be the answer without quality of life improvements,” Stump said, adding that he met with the mayor recently and made several proposals.

“I think they’re all good ideas,” Tyler told The Star Press Wednesday. “We’re looking at things in partnership with (Village Promenade developer) IPA.

“Whether or not it’s been addressed in the past, I want to address it in the future,” the mayor added. “We want a good partnership with the Village and we appreciate they want to improve the quality of life.”

The letter from Village merchants cites several “key problems and suggestions” for future growth in the heart of the Village district, along University Avenue just west of the Ball State campus:

– Pedestrian safety. Establish pedestrian right of way in the area, with crosswalks and “large safe walking zones” and “aggressive” enforcement of speed limits. Consider bike lanes and install bike racks.

– Draw a diverse crowd. Work to establish an anchor store – a “healthy” or organic grocery store is cited as an example – that is “practical” and would draw “those outside the standard college demographic.”

– Improve the area’s looks. “Create a more aesthetically pleasing” link between the Village and downtown Muncie and the surrounding community.

– Clean it up. “Invest in public trash receptacles to be serviced by the city and expect reasonable enforcement of littering laws.” Install community information kiosks to cut down on littering.

– Green it up. “Maintain green space and general infrastructure in the area,” including establishment of public parks.

– Control the party atmosphere. “Establish police as a positive, preventative presence ... (including) having a few officers patrolling on foot.”

“This (police) presence would go a long way to prevent many of the negative issues associated with drinking in the area,” the letter notes. “We want to keep its reputation as a fun spot but also make sure it is a safe and responsible area.”

IPA’s Village Promenade development will include 266 apartments with 522 bedrooms, a 266-car city parking garage and more than 22,000 square feet of commercial storefronts. Construction is underway with a goal of completion by July 2014. A 201,000-square-foot building will replace University Square and a 132,000-square-foot building will replace the former Ball State credit union building and other structures, to the east across Dill Street from the larger structure. The development will be four stories in height.

Tyler acknowledged the area has some long-standing problems.

“I drove through and we need to come up with a partnership that gets trash picked up more often,” the mayor noted, adding that all trash pickup is not done by the Muncie Sanitary District.

Tyler also noted the city plans new bike racks in the area, one of the elements called for in the letter from merchants.

Stump said business owners were “excited” about the Village Promenade project and were united in their hopes for the future of the Village.

“This is the first time in 20 years business relationships in the Village are not toxic,” he said.

The letter and accompanying proposals for kiosks, signage, pedestrian safety and litter and trash programs were submitted to the city under the group name Village Alive!

Stump said he hoped the city saw the value in making some changes in the Village in conjunction with the Village Promenade project.

“They’re spending $5 million or $6 million on the parking garage,” Stump said about the city’s structure. “They can spend $30,000 on a few improvements.”

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Information from: The Star Press, http://www.thestarpress.com

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