Live in East Central Indiana

Rushville's City Center Project

By Chris Flook

In east central Indiana, the city of Rushville has 76 different development projects currently underway, with a total investment of approximately $87 million. It seems as though the entire city is under construction! In 2016 Rushville was selected as a Stellar Community and approximately $19 million became available for city projects. One of the more prominent ventures in this urban resurgence is the restoration of the Princess Theater and the old Masonic Lodge building at 330 North Main Street. The endeavor, known as the City Center Project, is a result of a $3.8 million investment by the city to renovate the building. When all is said and done, many of Rushville’s municipal offices will relocate to the building’s second floor, while a new movie theater and Ivy Tech will establish a presence on the first.

Photo by: Brian Sheehan
Constructed in 1915 as a Masonic Lodge, the Masons hosted live performances in a firstfloor theater, including plays, musicals, and vaudeville acts. Around the mid-1930s, the theater began screening Hollywood movies. The good citizens of Rushville watched first-run movies here until the late 1990s, or early 2000s when the theater permanently closed. In addition to the second-floor rooms designated for Masonic rituals, the building also had a bowling alley and a post office on the first floor. In 2014, the Masons sold the building to the city of Rushville.


Photo by: Brian Sheehan
For the following two years, city officials wrote grants and found additional funding for exterior restoration and to rehabilitate the interior for 21st century use. The project became a flagship model of development for Rushville’s mayor, Mike Pavey. “The thought behind City Center was to create a way for us to incubate private sector efforts. We’d be an anchor institution on the second floor, while new business would occupy the first.” Pavey added that “For us, moving city hall just made sense. We needed more space and a better functioning city office system.”
 
Over the past year, Pavey’s vision has become reality, with significant renovation work currently underway. The daily activity at the site catches the eye of many Rushville residents, including John McCane, “Everyday I go by here, there’s something new.” McCane is the executive director of the Rush County Economic and Community Development Corporation. He is part of a team that oversees the project with Mayor Pavey and Rushville’s Special Projects Director, Brian Sheehan.
 
Mayor Pavey’s community development philosophy rests on a central idea that historic restoration efforts in the downtown corridor will, in turn, spur on private investment. Together they will bring new business, new visitors, and will increase foot traffic in the blocks surrounding the town square. McCane underscored the importance of such work, “I don’t care who you are and where you live, if you don’t have a vibrant downtown, the community will struggle.” The City Center Project exists as a direct application of the community’s redevelopment strategy.
 
Instead of tearing down the Masonic building and starting with something new, the renovation of the historic structure allows for new development within Rushville’s existing architectural landscape. Mayor Pavey believes in the “value of recognizing our history and architecture. We just can’t create the same look and feel of this building in an affordable way.” He added that if, “we were to tear the building down, we lose a bit of Rushville. Preserving it allows us to pass it onto the next generation.”


 
While preservation is a key focus of the project, the city is also looking to streamline local government. Currently Rushville’s city offices do not exist in a single location, which doesn’t make for efficient operation. City Hall offices are located at 133 West First Street and the city council meets in council chambers at police headquarters, while the Rushville City Utilities offices are across town. The City Center Project will rectify this by putting everyone together in one location, providing for better efficiencies.
 
Along with the centralization of city services on the second floor, the movie theater on the first will offer a new entertainment option in downtown Rushville. The restored Princess Theater will be managed as a second location for the Greensburg based Wolf Theater and will offer first-run, Hollywood movies by the end of the year. “There hasn’t been a movie theater in Rushville in almost two decades. The new theater will provide great entertainment for our residents and will continue to make downtown Rushville a destination,” Sheehan said. He added that the single screen
theater will include state of the art projection for 250 patrons. The screen will also retract, allowing for the theater to fulfill multiple purposes including corporate events and community arts and entertainment.

The rest of the first floor will be occupied by Ivy Tech, which will provide several dozen students with two separate classrooms. The building’s renovations are expected to be completed in late 2018, with full occupancy occurring sometime next year.
 

 
Rushville also crowdfunded over $50,000 in 30 days via Patronicity for the building’s new marquee. The $50,000 was matched by the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, yielding a budget of well over $100,000 for the sign.
 
Rushville’s efforts with the City Center Project, together with the many other ventures currently underway in the downtown Rushville Commercial Historic District, demonstrate what small and often rural communities can accomplish when collaboration and determination remain central values. As Mayor Pavey often says, “Rushville is leading the way in rural Indiana.” Adding that “Rural communities by nature are pretty conservative and that doesn’t always lend itself to improve our situation. We need to be more creative and innovative and Rushville is certainly demonstrating that.”