MONTICELLO — Many Monticello and White County officials are having a tough time staying upbeat in the wake of Indiana Beach’s closure.
The collective includes Monticello Mayor Cathy Gross.
The self-described “glass half-full” city leader, who took over the top job a little less than two months ago, faces her first major economic challenge. She remains confident local citizens will rise to the occasion.
“We tend to look at the negative before the positive,” she said. “Do I wish this hadn’t happened? You damn betcha.
“But I believe what we can do will transform the community in the good way.”
About an hour before the announcement was made official, the Monticello Redevelopment Corporation announced plans during the Greater Monticello Chamber of Commerce’s monthly luncheon to begin a fundraising effort for the oft-talked about Monticello Riverwalk — a project that has been in some form of talks for the last three decades, according to MRC president Dan Oldenkamp.
The MRC plans to have a $50,000 fundraiser similar to the Streets of Monticello Association’s 2018 effort to fund downtown walk-throughs. If the $50,000 threshold is reached, the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority will match it with $50,000.
Oldenkamp and Kaylee Hahn, Enjoy White County’s digital marketing director, say they’re confident the closure will have little impact on fundraising. Enjoy White County promotes tourism in the area.
“The greater Monticello community is resilient and generous,” Hahn said. “We have seen this time and time again. It is now a goal that local residents and business owners see the Riverwalk Development as an opportunity to showcase what we have — sustainable assets including Lake Shafer, Lake Freeman, and the Tippecanoe River. The Riverwalk Project is long overdue and the potential for a positive economic impact should be evaluated entirely separate from the Indiana Beach circumstance.”
Hahn said communities such as Hobart, Lafayette, Elkhart and Columbus have “successful riverwalk districts without ever having an amusement park.”
“This project can showcase our resiliency,” LaOrange said.
Oldenkamp echoed those sentiments during his Feb. 18 presentation.
While most people outside of White County only know the area because of Indiana Beach, Gross said it’s time to be proactive and change that mindset.
“Yes, it’s a part of who we are. It’s our history, it’s our legacy and we will miss them,” she said. “But now is the time when we come together and find solutions, be proactive, and engage in some of those things that we’ve talked about over the years.”
Gross said public-private partnerships, boat rentals along the river, the riverwalk, and possible renovations of the old downtown fire station, can be “transformative” for the city.
“We still have our legs,” she said. “What we need to be is proactive, be environmentally conscience as we create recreational activities that will bring people here — and they’ll stay at our resorts on the lake, and visit our restaurants, visit the Madam Carroll, Kopacetic, the winery, the drive-in theater.”
Gross believes they can learn a lot from the Indiana Beach circumstance.
“What Indian Beach taught us is that entrepreneurism can spark so much,” she said. “Indiana Beach was literally just a beach on Lake Shafer and it became this beautiful amusement park. What we need to do is take that entrepreneurial spirit that gave us Indiana Beach to begin with and put in new and creative opportunities.
“Take these challenges and if we — the people who visit here, live here and work here — say, ‘We’re more than Indiana Beach and it’s still worth a drive,’ then they will come. I truly believe that.”
Gross emphasized she’s not “diminishing” the gravity of Indiana Beach closing. She instead believes the most can be made of a bad situation.
“This is a wallop,” she said. “I just believe we can come through this challenge, make it an opportunity and come out stronger in the end because, truly, when we work together, we do make a difference.
“I’m not laying down and I don’t believe any of the other leaders and our great communities will, either.”