KENDALLVILLE — Ask Kendallville residents what they’d like to see at the former McCray Refrigerator site near downtown and you’ll probably hear that they want something that will create fun.
Whether it’s an opportunity to get wet, a chance to take their pets out to run around or a place to bust kickflips on your board, entertainment features dominated the wishlist from residents responding to a KPC Media Group question about what they’d like to see at the old McCray lot.
The answers from residents may come as no surprise to city leaders, as the top few answers seem to pop up often when talking about quality-of-life improvements for the city.
Last month, Kendallville approved another year-long contract for temporary fencing surrounding the McCray site, as the city has put development of the 8.5-acre lot on the back burner over the last two years.
After the abandoned red-brick industrial facility burned in a massive fire in June 2018, Kendallville had the site off West Wayne Street fenced off to the public and then paid for a lengthy cleanup in which crews cleared the debris.
In early 2019, the city unveiled some preliminary ideas for how it might use the lot — a small park to serve the local neighborhood, a solar field to generate power for the city and reserving a portion of the lot for future wastewater treatment plant expansions.
However, in the year and a half since, nothing’s happened at the site and Mayor Suzanne Handshoe noted recently that the original solar field idea looks like a longshot.
After shifting focus to other more immediate projects — most notably the downtown streetscape — Kendallville may be turning its eyes back toward the empty McCray site and what happens with it.
Handshoe said the immediate plans are to look into concrete crushing services to see whether the city can clean up the site a bit better from its current state with hopes of being able to remove hazards and then take down the fence.
As for what the city might use it for, there’s no concrete plans right now.
In Facebook posts a week ago put up on The News Sun and KPC News pages, we asked residents and visitors what they might like to see the site become.
Entertainment was the common theme in people’s responses, with splash pad, skate/bike park, pool and dog park being the most common answers.
A splash pad was mentioned by 19 different respondents out of about 50 people who commented with their ideas, leading all other options.
Ligonier and Albion both have splash pads — water features designed for younger children with sprinklers, sprayers and dump buckets that allow kids to get wet without getting into a body of water like a pool or lake — and LaGrange is in the process of building one.
Kendallville has heard the call for a splash pad for years and it’s been part of the city’s long-range parks plan, but it’s not made it to the top of the list year. The city spent much of its resources in recent years working on the Kendallville Outdoor Recreation Complex, which required the majority of the city parks budget and attention.
In interviews in March 2019 with Handshoe and park director Jim Pankop, the mayor said she didn’t think the McCray site was the place for a splash pad and was much more in favor of either the outdoor rec complex or even the Community Learing Center site off Riley Street.
Pankop, at the time, said he didn’t know enough about the characteristics of the property, with it being an old industrial site, to make a determination.
The next most popular want from respondents was for a skate/bicycle park, where people could ride and bust tricks off features.
Auburn has recently developed a skate park, with the project being the last major move from former mayor Norm Yoder before his retirement. The city adopted a $345,000 contract with a firm to build the feature.
Residents in Kendallville had, in the past, worked to raise money toward a skate park, although the project has never come into fruition.
In response to one commenter, Dawn McGahen, the Kendallville parks recreation director, said that money is still parked at the Community Foundation of Noble County, although it’s not enough to get the project done.
“The money is invested at the community foundation and, yes, individuals worked hard collecting it, however it’s not nearly enough at this point,” McGahen wrote.
The third most popular wishlist item from residents was for a pool or water park, although compared to other water features like a splash pad, that would be a much more significant investment.
Auburn closed its pool in 2017 and never reopened it. Garrett still operates its pool, although it was closed for the 2020 season due to COVID-19.
Columbia City is one area that has recently embraced a city pool, opening a new $4.6 million aquatics center in 2018 with pools, water slides and a children’s splash area.
The fourth and final most-sought-after amenity was a dog park.
Dog parks generally offer a fenced in, grassy area where pet owners can take their canines off leash to run around, play and socialize with other dogs. For people who don’t have large yards or fenced-in areas, dog parks offer a place for people to give their pets a workout.
Many dog parks also have obstacle courses set up, which can provide a space for people to train their pets for competitions like 4-H.
Other ideas that got a few scattered votes including pavilions or areas for public activities/events, an ice skating rink, a playground or even a sledding hill.
While those projects can range in cost from a few thousand dollars for something like a fenced in dog park to potentially millions for an expansive water park like Columbia City built, Kendallville does have a funding source available.
The McCray site is located within Kendallville’s expanded tax increment financing district, which means the city could utilize TIF dollars for development there.
Currently the city captures around a half-million dollars annually in TIF money, which can be used for economic development and other quality-of-life projects.