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Monday, August 15, 2022

Evansville in 2040

In 2010, the Evansville Metropolitan Planning Organization (EMPO) applied for a $1.4 million federal grant to create a regional plan for sustainable development in Henderson (Kentucky), Vanderburgh, and Warrick counties. Only 42 of the hundreds of applicants received money, and Evansville was on that list.

Once the money was in place, EMPO worked hand in hand with Lochmueller Group (formerly Bernardin, Lochmueller & Associates). Committees were formed with local civic, business, education, and nonprofit leaders involved. Public meetings gave everyone a chance to voice an opinion.

It took months of research and planning. In April 2014, the Millennial Plan for 2040 was finalized. Lochmueller Group’s Mike Shoulders led most of the project, along with 10 others from the company.

Mike Hinton, president of Lochmueller Group, says getting to work on the Millennial Plan for 2040 was an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“It is a long-range look at a desirable EMPO region,” says Hinton. “When you look to 2040, it frees you up to consider the potential that exists in this marketplace. And to do it with an approach that is sustainable.”

Hinton says the Millennial Plan was put together with lots of public engagement. It also brought together leaders from three counties, something that rarely happens.

The Millennial Plan is divided into six goals: transportation and infrastructure, housing and neighborhood development, workforce and economic development, environment and healthy communities, arts and culture, and building and land development. In this feature, we’ve broken down each of those topics.

“It won’t happen exactly like this plan,” says Hinton. “What this does is provide a pretty good map for saying ‘This is conceptually what we want to have happen.’”

Growing the Economy

Planning what kind of jobs and development Evansville needs

No industry or business is immune to ups and downs in the economy. Evansville, once seen as a center of manufacturing, has seen many of its largest factories close. But by developing a diverse, sustainable local economy, the Tri-State will be better able to withstand market fluctuations.

“Evansville has always framed economic development with manufacturing,” says Bob Grewe, manager of community development services for Lochmueller Group. “On the other hand, looking forward, manufacturing does not have the same growth capacity as professional services and that sort of thing. It’s an opportunity to diversify.”

The Millennial Plan calls for making the region more attractive to emerging industries and employees, and support of small businesses by incentivizing their expansion. The best businesses will be clean, green, and high-tech enterprises.

“We think that sustainability includes economic resilience,” says Mike Shoulders, urban designer and regional planner for Lochmueller Group.

“Communities that have a broad foundation and diversity, that are not reliant on just one big factory, that’s a big part of sustainability. Most of the projects that we propose are large, but they are sustainable.

The Indiana University School of Medicine, which will expand with a new campus in Downtown Evansville in 2017, will have an enormous impact on the area. And since it is considered infill development, it’s exactly the kind of investment the Millennial Plan calls for.

“It is exciting for sure. It is perfect timing, to dovetail with this (sustainable) initiative,” says Bob Grewe, economic development planner for Lochmueller Group. “We hope it will kick start it. The school is going to be wonderful, and there will be opportunities for related investment. This plan can help guide that growth.”

One of the biggest economic development ideas laid out in the Millennial Plan is a new area called The Evansville Wharf. If a new slack water river port is built west of Evansville near Howell Yard, the property currently occupied by Mulzer Crushed Stone might become available.

The Wharf would be an extension of Downtown, a mixed-use, mixed-income development. It would create a river boardwalk and offer shopping, dining, and an urban park. It also would serve as a marina, with personal watercraft docking near Pigeon Creek.

Seyed Shokouhzadeh, executive director of the Evansville Metropolitan Planning Organization, says for any of the economic development idea to come to fruition, local residents will have to support them.

“The whole goal of this plan is to introduce new policy,” says Shokouhzadeh. “How do we want to live 25 years from now; how do we want our community to look 25 years from now? Who do we want to be? Do we want to be a community where our young people want to come back? These are the questions we need to ask ourselves.”

Above, a barge sits at the mouth of Pigeon Creek, shown from the location of the proposed Evansville Wharf. The plan calls for a mixed use development, with residential space along with shopping, dining, walking, and more. Below, a rendering of the development along the Ohio River and Pigeon Creek.

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Filling the Empty Spaces

Infill can help cities save money, improve services

Creating a sustainable community starts with building and land development. While suburban sprawl has been the norm since the Baby Boom era, that trend may be slowing. In Evansville, Mayor Lloyd Winnecke has made it a priority to rebuild the Downtown, and that’s the approach recommended by the Millennial Plan.

The plan lays out the case for infill, or new construction on sites within a city or town that are currently unused. To do that, planners also call for the creation of a land bank, which could make it easier to attract developers and private investment.

“It is more cost effective in the final analysis,” says Mike Shoulders, an urban designer and regional planner with Lochmueller Group. “Tax dollars are used more wisely with infill, and that’s on a national basis. So with this being a sustainable development study, infill is one of our basic concepts.”

The Millennial Plan encourages officials to incent builders and developers to provide higher-density residential and commercial land uses along transportation corridors in compact neighborhoods.

“This is a three-county phenomenon,” says Shoulders. “We are trying to say ‘If you’ve already devoted capital dollars to infrastructure and utilities in your corner of the world, lets optimize use of the ground that already has services to it.’ Now, that sounds reasonable. But we find there are various reasons why developers are more comfortable going out and finding a patch of open ground.”

By using vacant land that already is served by streets, utilities, and other infrastructure, cities can spend less on public improvements and maintenance. That also can minimize waste, as well as provide new housing and shopping opportunities in existing neighborhoods.

The plan looks at four different scenarios for future development, from zero to 30 percent urban infill. The conclusion is that with more infill, less land is required and less utility expansion is needed. With 30 percent infill rather than zero percent, cities can save 38 percent on infrastructure, 10 percent on ongoing public services, and create up to 10 times more tax revenue per acre.

“A lot of cities are seeing good things coming from infill,” says Matt Schriefer, land use planner for Lochmueller Group. “The different studies we looked at showed the denser you build, the quicker you can build up your tax base. And you also protect the farmland and natural environment.”

There are roadblocks for infill development, including zoning laws and the difficulty of taking ownership of abandoned houses. In some cases, state laws may need to be altered to make infill more attractive.

“There really are choices to be made with land use,” says Bob Grewe, manager of community development services for Lochmueller Group. “We need to think about the generations to come, and how we want to build these cities. So this illuminates what we can be. We can go this way or that way. It is compelling, and it is real.”

From 2000 to 2009 in the Evansville area, only 6.4 percent of development was infill. For the same period, South Bend had 38 percent of its development as infill.

“The infill dynamic can create a lot more interest in urban areas,” says Grewe. “This strategy can help urban mechanisms, like transit, function better. All that plays into the things people want to see. I think for Evansville residents, that means a brighter future.”

Above, a rendering of a possible new use for the former Wal-Mart location off Rosenberger Avenue shows residential and commercial spaces.

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Neighborhood Nodes

Self-contained neighborhoods could cut down on driving

What’s in a node? Actually, quite a bit.

The Millennial Plan lays out the case for creating distinctive, livable areas, supported by public policies and ordinances. And to do that, it recommends creating neighborhood nodes, with parks, shopping, different areas of population density, and improved access to public transportation.

“The nodes are all about efficiency,” says Matt Schriefer, land use planner for Lochmueller Group. “Traditionally, to build neighborhoods is to build a center with commercial uses and jobs, surrounded by all types of housing. The idea of nodes is to have everything together.

The Millennial Plan lays out nodes for convenience retail, local retail, and regional retail. The plan also assumes higher population density around the larger shops. The center of the nodes is mixed use, with the most dwelling units per acre. That helps plan public transportation stops.

“The more dense housing is at the core of the nodes, while the less and less dense population is out around the perimeter,” says Mike Shoulders, urban designer and regional planner for Lochmueller Group. “So the bus stops are located near the more dense areas at the heart of the nodes.”

The idea behind a neighborhood node is simple: cut down time people need to spend in their cars. The nodes are meant to be pedestrian friendly so people can walk to the local stores to get their goods, rather than drive.

“For reasons of congestion, air quality, affordability, and lower transportation costs, the goal is to cut everybody’s vehicle miles travelled,” says Shoulders. “If we travel less, our costs go down. That can be lessened by mass transit, population density, and good land use policy.”

The concept of nodes is not limited to new development, though the Millennial Plan does lay out possible new neighborhoods near Boonville, Indiana, and the new North High School, among others. It also lays out a node concept for the area around Lodge and Fairlawn schools.

“Whether it is new neighborhoods or existing neighborhoods and suburbs, if a mix of different uses is built, you’ll see more people walking, riding bikes, and getting outside, as opposed to just getting in a car and driving from point A to point B,” says Schriefer.

Shoulders says developers aren’t really going to build the nodes exactly as the Millennial Plan lays them out. He says adhering to the basic principles in future developments is what’s important.

“We don’t really expect these configurations to be built,” says Shoulders. “It is a concept. The developers and builders can take it and reinterpret it depending on the conditions of the property. But we want more density near the core, with transportation options and interspersed parks.”

At top, this rendering of the proposed neighborhood node near the new North High School is designed around Baseline Road. It includes parks, a new library, residences, and mixed use buildings. Above, Evansville’s Sutherland development is a walkable neighborhood.

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Roadmap to the Future

Transportation needs will change, so will services

The Tri-State was built to be travelled by car. Far too few roadways are pedestrian or bicycle friendly. But as the needs and wants of local residents change, promoting more accessible cities, towns, and neighborhoods will become more important.

When Oak Hill Road recently reopened after a yearlong construction project, it was touted as Evansville’s first “complete street.” That might just be the wave of the future.

“We are converting some of the four-lane roads into three-lane facilities,” says Seyed Shokouhzadeh, executive director of the Evansville Metropolitan Planning Organization (EMPO). “We’re adding bike lanes and improving the sidewalks. For example, Weinbach and Covert (avenues). Those are shorter-range projects. And if new projects use federal money, which comes through EMPO, we require them to do a ‘complete street,’ which has bike lanes, sidewalks, and facilities for public transportation. Not just drivers are using the facilities.”

It was the EMPO that applied for and received the grant that made the Millennial Plan possible. Along with that, the EMPO also completed a transportation plan for the entire area.

“The road plan itself is required by law every four years,” says Shokouhzadeh. “It’s under air quality standards. But the Millennial Plan basically fell in our lap. We don’t have to have it. Only the lucky ones have this. It gives us a good roadmap, not just for transportation, but how to create policy about what we’re going to look like in 2040.”

When public meetings for the Millennial Plan were held, transportation concerns were a regular topic.

“Every meeting we had, transit came up time and time again,” says Lochmueller Group’s David Goffinet, public participation planner for the Millennial Plan. “People would say that our transportation system has to get better, but then they’d admit they’ve never ridden a bus. They want it to be cool, hip, and healthy. I think we were collectively surprised how much it was brought up.”

Some of the transportation ideas addressed in the plan involve trying to make U.S. Highway 41 more “green” once the Interstate 69 Ohio River bridge and the extension of University Parkway to Interstate 64 are complete.

“Once that bridge is complete, and once University Parkway is complete up to Interstate 64, we kind of have a loop, and the function of 41 changes,” says Mike Shoulders, urban designer and regional planner for Lochmueller Group. “It can be a little slower with fewer trucks. There can be more plants and trees.”

Other plans already in the works call for buses that override traffic signals so they hit every light green and a shuttle bus to connect the METS bus system in Evansville to the HART system in Henderson, Kentucky. Both of those things, says Shokouhzadeh, will happen relatively soon.

Evansville lacks the necessary population density to make light rail an affordable option. However, there is the possibility of introducing a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system along the U.S. Highway 41 corridor by 2040.

“Bus Rapid Transit is way out there,” says Shokouhzadeh. “It would drive on a special right-of-way and have special platforms. But you need an infrastructure change. It’s not just restriping a road.”

The Millennial Plan for 2040 calls for the extension of University Parkway north to Interstate 64. It also foresees the construction of a new Interstate 69 bridge over the Ohio River. Those projects would reroute most commercial traffic away from U.S. Highway 41.

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Healthy Ideas

Ways for the Tri-State to become a little more green

By 2040, most Tri-State residents will live close to a park, be able to walk or bike on a series of greenways, drive fewer miles to work, and spend more time outside. U.S. Highway 41 will be transformed, with new trees and plants. Local produce will be available in neighborhood markets.

That’s all according to the Millennial Plan, which envisions the Tri-State as a place with healthy lifestyles and improving air and water quality. The plan lays out 12 healthy living regional objectives for the area.

“It makes more sense to try and coordinate, look at what people do best, look at the strengths of the communities,” says Mike Shoulders of Lochmueller Group. “Things like air quality. It is tough to address air quality if you’re only thinking about your own little piece of it. It’s rare you get to do a regional plan, and that’s what this is.”

One of the plans for a more active community is the concept of a complete street. Complete streets reduce the number of vehicle lanes to put in bicycle and pedestrian lanes.

“It is absolutely imperative as a city that we start looking at complete streets,” says David Goffinet of Lochmueller Group. “We built a lot of urban four lane roads that are now too narrow. That did not perform the way people hoped it would. So we have great complete street candidates that can accommodate bike lanes and have sidewalk improvements. They can have pedestrian-friendly traffic signals.”

Other ideas include neighborhood parks, preservation of wildlife spaces, urban and community gardens, composting of organic waste, a system of interconnected greenways, the use of native plants for landscaping, and more.

“It is about, over time, putting it into policies and initiatives and keeping sustainability principals at the forefront as we go forward,” says Bob Grewe, manager of community development services for Lochmueller Group.

The Millennial Plan calls for an urban park bounded by Second, Vine, Third, and Sycamore streets. With a small stage and an open lawn, it’s similar to a 2011 plan for Bicentennial Park, which was to have been built in the same location but has not begun.

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Who Are We?

Evansville must find its identity

Evansville has an identity problem. While the city and the Tri-State area have many great assets, there isn’t a must-see attraction.

That’s the opinion of Lochmueller Group’s David Goffinet, who helped plan the public participation portion of the Millennial Plan. And it’s what he’s heard over and over from local residents.

“The biggest concern was the lack of identity,” says Goffinet. “We heard, time and time again, that we have not figured out who we are since Whirlpool left. Are we a manufacturing town? Are we a medical town? Are we really a river town?”

The plan encourages affordable tourism opportunities for residents and visitors, as well as greater access to cultural opportunities. That would mean a wider range of entertainment options than what currently exists.

“No one says ‘Have you been to Downtown Evansville?’” says Goffinet. “The closest thing we’ve got, there were some anecdotal stories about people who’ve visited the greenway (Rivertown Trail) in Newburgh. That’s the only thing we’ve heard.”

The plan stresses the need for arts and culture as an economic development tool. Large companies are looking for good community spaces, good neighborhoods, and fun things for their employees to do. For that to happen in Evansville, more things need to happen Downtown.

“There is still a feeling that Downtown is closed on the weekends,” says Goffinet. “It is closed unless there is a concert or a ball game. People want to be able to spend time walking in the Downtown with more shops, dining experiences, and outdoor dining. They also want to see something done with the old Greyhound station and the Bicentennial Park. They want that to be a trailhead of the urban trail system.”

In the public meetings, planners heard repeatedly — from both Millennials and Baby Boomers — about the desire to be able to live, work, and play Downtown.

“When you think of other cities you’ve visited, you identify with their downtowns,” says Matt Schriefer, land use planner for Lochmueller Group. “You identify with downtown Indianapolis, downtown St. Louis, downtown Louisville. So building that identity for Evansville and Henderson is vital.”

Goffinet says while people are aware of the Haynie’s Corner Arts District, they generally don’t know what is there, if galleries are open, or what else there is to see. And there also was a public sentiment to focus more on the Ohio River as a cultural connection.

“I think what people acknowledge is that we are river communities,” says Goffinet. “The one thing that we share, both sides of the river, is the river. We grew as communities because of the river.”

To see the complete Sustainable Evansville Area Coalition Millennial Plan for 2040, visit seacplan.org.

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