Old Town Villas Bring New Mindset
By Stephen McCollum
Hartford City is turning a corner. Precisely, the corner of Jefferson and Main streets. The Old Town Villas, a 12-16 unit rental complex with complementary commercial spaces, broke ground in the spring.
Construction of physical space doesn’t just happen out of thin air, said project developer Joe Peacock, President of KDC Investments, Inc. Peacock is a businessman who doesn’t shy away from the role of being a community catalyst.
“We’re a society of ‘we see it, we want it, let’s get it,’ but that’s not how real, sustainable change happens,” he said. “Real change happens one methodical, well-thought out step at a time. We’re two years in the making here— two years before the first shovel in the ground.”
“Joe could have just come into town, built his project, and gone on,” said Rev. Ron Branson, pastor of Grace United Methodist Church. “But he has been involved from the beginning with the economic development dimension of this. He’s engaged with the community about how we can take the next steps.”
Mayor Ben Hodgins agrees. “This is about getting our downtown active again,” he said. The mayor assisted KDC Investments with acquiring the various parcels that led to an entire city block getting a makeover.
The spillover effect is under way. Blackford Initiative and Hartford City Mainstreet have convened community stakeholders to begin envisioning how to develop the lot across the street from Old Town Villas—originally site of Weiler’s Department Store and later Montgomery Ward. The goal is for downtown to reclaim its place as a magnet for citizen engagement.
“Old Town Villas will draw people downtown, stimulating other kinds of entrepreneurial activity,” said Colton Bickel, executive director of the Blackford County Economic Development Corporation (BDEDC). “This can be a win-win,” added Bickel. “We know we need to boost our market rate housing stock” as part of an overall growth strategy. To that end, KDC Investments and the BCEDC are combining resources to promote both Old Town Villas and the county in a joint advertising campaign.
Something Old, Something New
Embracing the possibility of change in Hartford City will prompt some to long for the “good, old days.” It’s true that the courthouse square once touted as many as three drugstores interspersed with some of the old titans of retail like Montgomery Ward, JJ Newberry and Woolworth.
While the visionaries can see a 21st century revitalization of a bustling downtown, it might be instructive to look to the historic register for evidence of the kind of inspiration and commitment it takes to rebuild from the ravages of time.
The stately Romanesque courthouse opened in 1893 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. The town leaders’ vision was daunted when every one of the seven construction bids came in over the architects’ projections. The Blackford County Historical Society record tells us that at first the commissioners wanted to reject all of them.
But then something happened. As they deliberated, they “…came to the conclusion that a suitable structure for the present and future generations could not be built for much less and that a cheap structure could not ‘withstand the ravages of time.’”
“Real change happens one methodical, well-thought out step at a time.”
—Joe Peacock, President of KDC Investments, Inc.
To Joe Peacock’s way of thinking, that illustrates that “leaders are born, not made.” In the late 19th century, a group of community leaders found the spark to create something that a century later would put Hartford City and Blackford County on the map. They could have let the cost of a project stop them, but they made a choice with future generations in mind.
“The search for a win-win outcome is almost always available if you are willing to seek it,” said Peacock. In the spirit of something old—the historic Blackford County Courthouse—Peacock looked around Hartford City, talked to community leaders, researched the economic and job potential and decided to do something that just might make a difference.
“If you want to implement change by working on a committee, running for office, or operating a business, it takes true commitment and you have to stick with it,” he said. “And be open to other people’s ideas.”
Full Speed Ahead—Step by Step
There’s a saying that activists sometimes use: “If not me, who? If not now, when?”
If you’re already a stakeholder in the changes that are taking place in town—from the courthouse square to the new health center and beyond—thank you. On your way to the next meeting, recruit a friend or neighbor. Remember, skeptics are not naysayers; they just haven’t found a seat at the table yet.
Like those 19th century leaders, you can be part of building something for present and future generations. That’s what a community is, after all—a place that spans generations of born leaders. And there’s a role for everyone, said Joe Peacock.
“Many people have contributed to the progress that’s been made here. And when it comes to building a community, I like to remind people to always complement rather than compete. Another way of thinking about it is: Always do the right thing versus needing to be right.”
Blackford Initiative seeks to bring the community together for positive change. If you would like to know more or get involved, call (765) 499-3670.