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This story is a part of the CBJ's Newsmakers edition. This year-end wrap-up from the staff of the Corridor Business Journal is a compilation of the year’s most noteworthy articles and projects, as told through stories that appeared in the bi-weekly issues of the CBJ. This story was originally published in Jan. 2022.
Although it may be hard to imagine a sunny summer festival during the cold of winter, Marion officials and business owners are anxious for the snow to melt to show off their brand-new streetscape. After more than a decade of planning and six months of torn-up roads and sidewalks, the first phase of the Central Corridor Plan is nearly complete as Seventh Avenue opened to traffic a week before Christmas. “We had beautiful weather, which allowed them to work a little bit ahead on some parts of the project,” said Brooke Prouty, director of Uptown Marion Main Street. “They completed the Seventh Avenue and 10th Street intersection, which will set them up really well for Phase II in the spring.” Phase I isn’t finished, as some amenities such as light poles on order have been delayed due to supply chain issues, but business owners have already felt the effects of opening the main artery in town. Ben Davis, owner of The Marion Chocolate Shop at 1244 Seventh Ave., enjoyed a successful holiday season and is gearing up for Valentine’s Day. “Going through the Christmas holiday, we’ve had so many people thankful about the road being open and talking about how much better it is to be able to park right in front of all of the businesses and walk right in instead of having to hit the public lot and make their way around,” he said. “But people were doing what they could the whole time. So, it was good.” Mr. Davis and his wife, Katy, bought the business in June and opened in July, just a few days before the road construction began right outside their shop’s front door. Fortunately for them, the warmer summer and early fall months are the slowest in the chocolate business, giving them time to settle in. The Central Corridor Plan adopted in 2009 repurposed the former railroad right-of-way into a street and introduced a long-term traffic management plan for Marion’s core, “balancing traffic” between Sixth and Seventh avenues and creating “a more pedestrian-friendly atmosphere in Uptown Marion.” Local-option sales tax dollars are funding the projected $6.5 million project, and bonding through the city’s capital improvement program includes complete reconstruction of Seventh Avenue and adjacent side streets between Eighth and 12th streets and Sixth and Eighth avenues in the heart of the central business district. It also includes a plaza on 11th Street that stretches from the Uptown Artway south across Seventh Avenue. A recently completed “festival street” along Seventh Avenue between 10th and 12th streets doesn’t have a curb to make it more accessible to patrons. “There is a brick sidewalk to delineate where the parking ends, and the sidewalk begins, and you’ll see trees and benches to be able to decipher that,” Ms. Prouty said. “It will be a street that’s meant to be closed down for festivals, which will help to have access to some of those park events.” Other elements of Phase I include more angled parking near the park and a narrower road to divert truck traffic to Sixth Avenue to help with the district’s walkability. Phase II will start on 10th Street between Sixth and Eighth avenues this spring. Much of the work will involve underground infrastructure and sidewalk repair. “This is something we’ve been waiting for a long time now, and businesses were extremely supportive of it because our infrastructure was really crumbling,” Ms. Prouty said. “There were a lot of cracks in the sidewalks; it was not very ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) friendly. We’ve been able to fix some of those parking issues and add more handicapped parking spots. We’ve been able to take the feedback from the businesses of what they dreamed of for this area and really implement that in this streetscape.” Once the snow clears, she said, patrons will be able to see the added amenities, especially when the Plaza Area on 11th Street is done. “That will have fire pits and a community gathering space, which is really what we’ve been wanting all along for people to come down to the area and visit our businesses,” she said. “We want to be a full-day experience. The more community spaces we can build out, the more people want to stay and want to experience the Uptown District. That was a big part of this project.”