New housing developments in Wabash County seen as a catalyst for growth
Wabash Mayor Scott Long knows what his city has to offer– cultural attractions such as Honeywell Center, dining experiences, and luxury lodging such as Charley Creek Inn. He also knows that the population of Wabash is not what it once was, and he views new housing as an essential way to draw in new people.
“For 40 years we’ve had a declining population, and we’re trying to figure out that decline,” Long says. “One of the ways we can do that is by creating various programs—new housing being one.”
To meet the need for new housing, the City of Wabash, in partnership with Grow Wabash County, is spearheading a new single-family housing development along the East Market Street corridor, a one-block stretch between Allen and Huntington streets in Downtown Wabash.
East Market Street is not the only place in Wabash County allocated for new single-family homes. A new housing development in Wabash, Kentner Creek Crossing, is located next to Honeywell Golf Course. And sixteen miles due north of Wabash, in North Manchester, the new Chester Heights housing development is well underway.
East Market Street Housing Project
In 2018, public policy students at Manchester University were tapped by the City of Wabash and Grow Wabash County to recommend future steps for the East Market Street corridor, which had been targeted for redevelopment. The students concluded that new homes, along with possible new construction for other purposes, would be ideal in that location. The city and Grow Wabash County decided to follow through on the students’ recommendation.
A request for proposals was issued, and proposals for the development were due on March 14. The project is scheduled to be awarded to a developer no later than April 11.
Improvements were needed, says Long. “There were nine homes on that block, and some of them were not in the best of shape. Probably three of the nine were what I would consider decent homes, but when you’ve got six homes that are in not such good shape, then you look at the entire block. We were able to acquire all nine homes, so we are basically starting with a clean slate.”
The style of home and the number of homes built will depend on who is awarded the contract, but Long estimates between eight and 12 new homes will be built on that segment of East Market Steet, and he hopes that ground can be broken this fall or next spring.
Wabash is participating in MakeMyMove, a program designed to attract remote workers to smaller towns. Long says he hopes that remote workers who move to Wabash will their families too. Although without a wide array of good housing options, a town like Wabash will be less attractive to people who have the option of working from anywhere they want.
But new homes on East Market Street aren’t meant to only attract newcomers. Long says that empty nesters who want to downsize and want a home with less lawn maintenance needs may find living downtown to be a good option.
No matter who ends up living in the new homes, Long touts the available amenities. People can bike or run to Lagro on the nearby Wabash River Trail, and the Eagles Theatre and Honeywell Center are only two and three blocks away, respectively.
Kentner Creek Crossing
Amy Ford, the managing member of the Kentner Creek Crossing housing development, has heard over and again about the lack of housing in Wabash and the surrounding area.
“Wabash has not had any new executive communities or subdivisions built in about 30 years,” Ford says. “We’ve just had a really low inventory of lots and available housing.”
So Ford, co-owner of Borders & Beyond Gallery and who sits on several boards in the local community, decided to do something about it. As a small business owner and as someone who is involved in and is an advocate for the Wabash community, she is aware of the great need for more housing options to attract and keep people.
Ford and her husband, Mark Ford, eyed vacant property near The Gardens neighborhood and the Honeywell Golf Course that was owned by the Honeywell Foundation, which was willing to sell the land.
After Ford, along with her husband, Mark Ford, completed the purchase of the property, she found a developer. First up was infrastructure needs, including putting in new roads, preparing lots for building, and installing infrastructure for sewer and utilities. The process was a learning experience for Ford.
“I’ve never done this before,” she says, “but that’s kind of how I start projects—I just try to surround myself with people who are much more knowledgeable and then kind of just ride on their coattails.”
A total of 26 lots make up the subdivision. Some of the lots have already been sold, and one house is already under construction. Ford foresees other homes breaking ground this spring. Homes in the neighborhood will be “executive” homes, which basically means nice, luxury houses.
Kentner Creek Crossing is a TIF (tax increment financing) district. As such, the increase in property taxes in that area is used to subsidize new development.
“It’s just a way to kind of help incentivize a developer like us or somebody else to come in and take the risk to do it,” says Ford. “The thing is, with small communities, it’s hard to get developers to come and take that risk, but the need is real in small communities for all types of homes.”
Ford echoes Long in her assessment of the kind of community Wabash is. “How many communities the size of Wabash have something like the Honeywell Center? We’ve got this downtown that’s moving, we have the Wabash River Trail that connects to Lagro, we’ve got the Dam to Dam—there’s just activity all over the place.”
She says she is hopeful that Kentner Creek Crossing will provide another reason for people to choose Wabash as home.
Chester Heights, located next to Ninth Street in North Manchester, broke ground in 2020.
Adam Penrod, town manager of North Manchester, says that about 30 years went by without any new housing developments in the town.
“Our population has been declining since the 1980s, and it’s going to continue to decline unless we do something about it,” Penrod says. “We engaged all communities in Wabash County to look at where we were falling short, and one of the top two to three that popped right up when we did our analysis was housing stock in the county. We weren’t building enough new homes, and the homes we did have were aging and were well beyond the average age home in the state.”
It was obvious that a new housing development was needed, but attracting a developer to a town of 6,000 was not as easy as getting someone to build homes in a larger city like Fort Wayne or South Bend, says Penrod. Thus, North Manchester entered into a public–private partnership with Ideal Builders of Decatur, Indiana. North Manchester helped pay for infrastructure improvements and helped find ground for development, which the town-owned.
“It really was a continual collaboration, which is very different than a private investor buying a piece of ground in Fort Wayne and building homes without involvement from the city,” says Penrod.
Having new housing to offer is working to attract new residents. “One out of 10 (new Chester Heights residents) is a transplant from within the county, and the other nine have either moved here from outside the county or outside the state,” Penrod says. “That’s telling us that we do have a marketable community. We’re not a big city, but we were missing opportunities with not having new housing.”
When the current Chester Heights development is about 78 percent full, Penrod is looking at there being a second phase.
Similar to Kentner Creek Crossing, the town of North Manchester used TIF money to kickstart the new Chester Heights development.
The success of Chester Heights has led other small towns to take notice. “We’ve had three or four other smaller rural communities that have reached out and said, ‘Hey, we heard about what you did—talk about the process,’” says Penrod. “It’s kind of shed light that you don’t have to just sit there and wonder ‘what if?’—there are opportunities, so we use ourselves as a resource for those communities that would like to do the same.”
Wabash is the focus of our Partner City series underwritten by Visit Wabash County. This series will capture the story of talent, creativity, investment, innovation, and emerging assets shaping the future of Wabash County, about an hour Southwest of Fort Wayne.