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America's Best Communities

Madison team working toward
final round of national contest

Various recent projects to make up final pitch to judges

(December 2016) – Madison, Ind.’s pursuit of a $3 million prize in the America’s Best Communities contest continues to perk along as the committee prepares for the next year’s final round. Madison is among eight finalists for the award. Second place will receive $2 million and third place $1 million.
The America’s Best Communities contest was launched in September 2014. In April 2015, Madison earned $50,000 in the first round, becoming one of 50 quarterfinalists in the contest, in which more than 400 communities competed. Madison used that money to hire Ratio Architects to create a Comprehensive Plan for the community.

Photo by Don Ward

Madison’s Hatcher Hill in October was upgraded, paved then re-opened to pedestrians and bicyclists as part of the Madison Connector, a project initiated by the America’s Best Communities team.

In January 2016, Madison advanced to the semifinals, becoming one of only 15 communities remaining. The Madison ABC team then traveled to Durham, N.C., in April 2016 to present its plan to the judges. Following that round, it was announced that Madison would advance to the finals, collect $100,000 to implement its plan, and become one of eight communities left to compete for the $3 million grand prize.
The eight finalists were given a year to put their plan in to place and use the results in a final presentation to the judges when they meet again sometime in early 2017.
Madison’s plan featured three primary tenants. The first was a program called Madison Moves, which took place in June and encouraged residents to get active and take 30 million steps in a certain period of time. In all, 604 residents participated and outpaced that goal fivefold, reporting taking more than 165 million steps during the month of June.
A second portion of the plan was to develop a way to connect the Madison hilltop with the downtown via a pedestrian-bicycle path by re-opening Hatcher Hill. That opening was completed in October with the paving of the roadway and drainage repairs.
The plan also included an effort to rehabilitate Mulberry Street in downtown Madison. One of the oldest commercial streets in the city’s history, portions of Mulberry had fallen into disrepair. The Madison Connector, as it is being called, calls for connecting Hatcher Hill with the riverfront via Mulberry Street.
“Mulberry Street has a strong history and one of the main commercial corridors back in the day,” said Andrew Forrester, the city’s Community Relations Manager and a member of the ABC team. “It’s really a gem in the rough. But there’s a lot of work to be done. The bones are there, and property owners have done a good job of keeping it up."

File photo by Don Ward

A state matching grant has been secured by the Madison Main Street Program to help fund upgrades to buildings along Mulberry Street in downtown Madison.

The Madison ABC team has been holding meetings with business owners along Mulberry Street to address upgrades. In late September, the Indiana Office of Community & Rural Affairs office announced it was awarding the Madison Main Street Program a $10,000 matching grant to help fund the effort to improve building facades, repair doors and windows, and conduct other improvements. Matching funds were provided from ABC team funds ($10,000). The Madison Main Street Program also kicked in $5,000 for a total of $25,000. Another $5,000 of in-kind services were provided, including expertise of Kim Nyberg to help guide the awarding of grants to business owners. This will take place in 2017, Forrester said.
“Building improvement is one of Kim’s first loves, so we are happy to have her take over this project,” Forrester said. Nyberg is the founding director of the Madison Main Street Program and most recently a former statewide officer with the Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development. She now resides in Madison and serves as executive director of the Madison Area Arts Alliance. She also serves on the Madison ABC team.
On Oct. 30, a brunch was held at Christ Episcopal Church on Mulberry Street to bring together business owners and ABC team members to discuss recent developments in the program. About 125 people attended, Forrester said. Tabitha Tolbert spearheaded the meeting, Forrester said.
“It was an opportunity for local business owners to get to know one another and learn more about the efforts we are doing for Mulberry Street,” he said.
The next step in the ABC contest has not yet been determined, but the teams from the eight finalist communities have been participating in a monthly webinar to stay in touch with the judges, Forrester said. Madison’s ABC team also meets monthly.
“We are expecting to learn at our December webinar the details on competing in the final
round,” Forrester said. He said it could be a summit of some type, a video report or a written report.
Whatever the format of the final round of competition, Forrester said the team is ready to go for the big money using as its tools the success of the Madison Moves, the Madison Connector and the Mulberry Street façade improvements.
Even if Madison doesn’t win, Forrester said the experience has provided the city with a Comprehensive Plan, which is required for the city to apply for major grants such as the Stellar Communities Designation grant. The Indiana Office of Community & Rural Development awards two of these grants each year, totaling between $6 million and $10 million per award. Winning communities have three years to implement their plans.
“Winning that could have major impact on our community, so that is definitely something we will be applying for in the future,” Forrester said. “If we don’t get it the first time, we can learn from it and try again.”
The America’s Best Communities contest is sponsored by Frontier Communications, DISH, The Weather Channel, CoBank and Madison’s corporate sponsor DST systems Inc. The other seven finalists competing against Madison are Chisago Lakes Area, Minn,; Darrington-Arlington, Wash.; Huntington, W. Va.; Lake Havasu City, Ariz.; Statesboro, Ga.; Tulatin, Ore.; and Valley County-Meadows Valley, Idaho.

• For more information on the contest, visit: www.AmericasBestCommunities.com.

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