SPECIAL REPORT: Fort Wayne isn’t the only place seeing progress: East Allen County is on the rise

East Allen Charts
As progress and growth continue in Fort Wayne, the smaller communities of East Allen County are rising with it—in their own way.

One year ago, seven communities in East Allen County were chosen to join the ranks of Indiana’s Regional Stellar Communities, paving the way for funding for a variety of economic development and quality-of-place improvement projects.

As 2020 approaches, Grabill, Harlan, Hoagland, Leo-Cedarville, Monroeville, New Haven, and Woodburn look forward to seeing some long-awaited projects put into action.

Monroeville is one of seven communities that is part of East Allen County.

In November 2018, the NewAllen Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to seeing these communities thrive, learned it had been awarded the highly competitive Regional Stellar Communities designation, giving them access to $4.5 million from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs.

Additional funding available includes $2 million in federal transportation funds through the Indiana Department of Transportation, $35,000 in rural health funds through the Indiana State Department of Health, and as much as $800,000 in affordable housing tax credits through the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority.

Monroeville Community Park provides the community with a place to gather.

NewAllen Rural Liaison, Kristi Sturtz, notes that East Allen County’s smaller communities often feel as if they are in the shadow of nearby Fort Wayne.

Through programs like Regional Stellar Communities, these towns have the opportunity to make their voices heard and to prove that they, too, have the potential to grow and thrive.

Kristi Sturtz, NewAllen Rural Liaison, presents at the group's October meeting.

When applying for the competitive Regional Stellar Communities designation, NewAllen Alliance submitted a portfolio of $64 million in projects. Of those, $17 million worth was identified as Stellar projects, with the remaining $47 million considered complementary projects.

Projects chosen for Stellar funding include:
  • East Alen County owner-occupied housing rehabilitation
  • Healthy Eating Active Living Kitchen classes
  • Downtown streetscape projects in Grabill and Leo-Cedarville
  • The Monroe Street corridor project and Forest Street sidewalk project in Monroeville
  • The Meadowbrook Trail project, Community Center Park project, and Kady Gene Cove senior housing project in New Haven
  • Sidewalk improvements and phase two of the downtown streetscape project in Woodburn

Though it has been a year, physical work on these projects has not yet begun. However, that does not mean things have not been happening.

A Stellar designation carries with it a list of rules and regulations. The NewAllen Alliance has been hard at work behind the scenes, making sure each project is in compliance with these standards.

“Having the designation means the state is going to work with us, but it does not mean that what is going to happen is going to happen exactly as it is presented,” Sturtz explains.

The Woodburn Clock Tower and Plaza are points of pride in the community.

This has meant hiring professional engineers to assist with designing each project, as well as grant administrators who are familiar with the way OCRA funding works. Other bases to cover include financing, permitting, site control, and public input.
By taking time to prepare, the NewAllen Alliance is making sure each project can progress smoothly.

“We’re going to see a lot more under construction in 2020,” Sturtz says.

Construction is underway at Monroeville Community Park.

She describes some of the Stellar projects that are slated to begin soon. In New Haven, for example, the Kady Gene Cove senior housing complex has been identified as a key project to provide more affordable housing for seniors in the area. The Meadowbrook Trail and New Haven Community Center Park will also undergo updates and expansions.

Another Stellar project Sturtz points out is the East Allen Owner-Occupied Rehabilitation Project, administered by BrightPoint. This will make $22,000 available to 14 low-income households in East Allen County needing improvements like new windows, roofing, ADA accessibility, and other upgrades.

An application for low-income housing tax credits has also been submitted, and the NewAllen Alliance finds out soon whether it will be awarded.

“That is really our largest project, around $8 million in investment,” Sturtz says.

Not every Stellar project will be construction-related either, she notes. Healing Seeds, in partnership with the St. Joe Community Health Foundation and Parkview Health, is a nutrition program based on the Healing Kitchen classes in Fort Wayne. It will target all age groups with cooking classes geared toward healthy eating taking place at youth centers, senior centers, and community centers throughout East Allen.

When it comes to making these and other projects successful, NewAllen Alliance President Kent Castleman has one word: Engagement.

NewAllen Alliance President Kent Castleman speaks at the group's October meeting in Woodburn.

Castleman notes that community sustainability is largely based on community members “caring about their existence and helping reinvent them.”

“We need for that to continue and encourage people of all ages to get engaged and involved,” he adds.

The NewAllen Alliance has created a number of ways for the community to become involved in its work. Collaborative meetings take place once a month where everyone is invited to attend to offer input on projects and ideas.

A splash pad at Monroeville Community Park.

In addition, volunteer committees are forming that cover areas like placemaking, marketing and social media, sustainability, and leadership development. Anyone interested in volunteering with one of these committees can contact Sturtz at [email protected]

“We would love for people to recognize that if they want to be a leader in their community, they need to start by engaging in simple ways like helping with our committees,” Castleman says.

East Allen County is on the move.

Keep up with the NewAllen Alliance

The NewAllen Alliance plans to roll out an updated website in 2020. Those wishing to keep up can also “like” its Facebook page.

This Special Report is made possible by Greater Fort Wayne, Inc.