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Fourth Street Resiliency Plan Recognized by INASLA.

The Indiana Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (INASLA) has announced the recipients of their 2020 Professional Awards including a Merit Award in the Planning and Analysis category for the Fourth Street Resiliency Plan in Huntingburg, Indiana.

INDIANAPOLIS, In. (August 12, 2020)- The Indiana Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (INASLA) has announced the recipients of their 2020 Professional Awards. Each year, INASLA recognizes outstanding works of landscape architecture in the State of Indiana. These awards recognize standards of excellence in the profession and seeks to raise the public awareness of the profession and the American Society of Landscape Architects. This year, INASLA recognized 14 projects across the state of Indiana, including a Merit Award in the Planning and Analysis category for the Fourth Street Resiliency Plan in Huntingburg, Indiana.

Project Purpose: The Covid-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on local economies around the world. The spread of the virus, mandated closing of businesses, and continued need for social distancing has created extreme stresses on businesses, especially small businesses, and has pushed local economies to the point where many small businesses face the prospect of closing for good. In an April 2020 Main Street America poll, 6% of business owners indicated that their business was at risk of closing permanently within the next 30 days, and 26% indicated that their business was at risk of closing permanently in the next 1-2 months. This has been particularly challenging for small rural Indiana communities where small businesses make up a majority of their local economy.

In Huntingburg, Indiana, population 6500, Fourth Street is the community’s downtown commercial district. There are 35 local businesses along the two-block central business district with nearly all of the businesses falling within the Small Business Administration’s category for 1-4 employees. In mid-March, nearly every business on Fourth Street was required by the State of Indiana to close or greatly limit their business capacity. This closure lasted for 69 days throughout March and April 2020 with an estimated impact of $2.596 million, or $74,175 lost revenue per business, nearly 20% of their average annual revenue.

The State of Indiana has initiated a five-stage procedure for gradually reopening Indiana businesses. According to current regulations, Dubois County and much of Indiana reached Stage 3 on May 24 which allows restaurants to operate at 50% capacity and retail services to operate at 75% capacity. These limitations remain in place, in some fashion, until Stage 5, which is currently set for July 4, 2020.

In 2016-2018, the City of Huntingburg, with its design partners Taylor Siefker Williams Desing Group and VS Engineering, undertook a redesign of the two-block downtown historic district to create a “curbless street concept” which would allow greater flexibility in being able to use the street as an extension of downtown businesses. While addressing flooding issues and other infrastructure needs, the design sought to enhance the downtown marketplace feel of Fourth Street and provide options for outdoor dining and shops as part of an overall enhancement of the street. The redesign was completed in 2019, but the City chose to delay any “flexing” of the street for one year to allow residents to get used to the new traffic configuration, to develop the guidelines and policies that will be used to govern business use of Fourth Street, and to take further design action to design and procure the barriers, tables, and other enhancements necessary to “flex the street.”

Taylor Siefker Williams Design Group undertook this study as a week-long virtual charette study. In conversations with local officials, it was clear that there was tremendous pressure to find a way to increase local business capacities and assist local businesses with reopening. The result was a white paper titled the Fourth Street Resiliency Plan- A Look at How to Keep Fourth Street Healthy, Safe and Open for Business and served as a decision-piece to assist local community officials with options for quickly activating the street and the health, business, and political impacts of doing so. The intent was to provide decision makers with the resources necessary to make quick decisions and implement an expedited reopening plan for the period between June 5- July 5, 2020.

It was determined that any decision making must be evaluated through three different lenses:

  • Health impact- what are the health risks of increasing business capacity during the restricted period?

  • Business impact- what are the costs and potential business impacts associated with each option?

  • Political impact- what are the potential risks and public perceptions of enacting each scenario?

Quick research steps and analysis were performed for each category to establish a baseline condition from which each potential solution could be evaluated. Health statistics and Dubois County’s recent spike in Covid-19 cases were used to project potential health impacts and health red flags. Business impacts were projected to analyze the amount of potential impact that might be expected from each scenario, with that data cross referenced to expected expenses and cost-to-benefit ratios. And known public policy perceptions from the previous design work were gathered and used to project the public’s openness to each concept.

Six different scenarios were developed for quickly transforming the street. Each scenario explored different layout options, durations, and typical layouts. Some options explored a limited weekend or daily closure of the street. Some options explore a 30-day closure until Stage 5 is met, including a tactical urbanism approach, and one option looked at very limited solutions just for the five restaurant businesses along Fourth Street. These scenarios were developed to begin to provide some thought to how the street can accommodate increased capacity for the business district without closing the entire street. It is thought that if the temporary closure is successful, the second block can be opened to similar modifications. Because of the quick turnaround time for implementation, it is important to note that none of the solutions involved permanent construction and were intended solely as a temporary adjustment through Stage 5 of the Indiana business reopening requirements.

Each scenario was analyzed in terms of its costs, business impact, health impact, and political impact. Costs for implementation included City staff labor hours (no new purchases are proposed for this temporary adjustment) for closing the street and implementing the closure.

Anticipated business impact was calculated for each scenario based upon the average daily small business revenue increases in shifting restaurant capacity from 50% to 75% and retail capacity from 75% to 90% for the scenario duration. A comparison of the costs to implement versus the projected business impact results in a cost-to-benefit index and the total potential expected revenue that could be generated for this action.

Finally, a risk comparison was included that identified the level of risk from the health perspective, business impact perspective, and political perspective. At the conclusion of the study, the white paper was presented to the Mayor and City officials as a tool for their decision making.

The INASLA Awards were presented during a virtual presentation on August 12, 2020 as part of INASLA’s 2020 Annual Meeting.

Client: City of Huntingburg, Indiana

Consultants: Taylor Siefker Williams Design Group- Indianapolis, IN

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