Alley activation: City, community groups on track to further enhance downtown alleys

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A recent vote by the Noblesville Common Council has allocated funding to further develop and enrich the alleys off the historic downtown Noblesville square.

The public may soon see changes to the North Alley, between Kirk’s Hardware and First Merchants Bank, and the East Alley between Matteo’s Ristorante Italiano and Moonshot. The alleys are set to be closed to vehicle traffic but open for pedestrian and event space, very similar to what has been done in the square’s South Alley, which will also see some improvements with the alley activation initiative.

On Aug. 14, the Noblesville Common Council unanimously voted to move $80,000 from the downtown development fund to the economic development department, a recommendation from the city’s downtown district committee. An additional $10,000 for downtown improvement also will be allocated in 2017, 2018 and 2019 from economic development.

“This particular initiative has been under way for at least three years. The city commissioned a study early in 2016 from Rachel Kavathe of Loci Creative, and she did all of this research on how the alleys are used currently, traffic flow studies, talked to downtown business owners and then compiled this really neat plan,” said Aili McGill, the city’s arts and culture consultant and executive director of Nickel Plate Arts. “So now, we are building off of that plan after having talked to a lot of people to find out what’s most viable and what’s sort of lowest-hanging fruit. It’s taken us a little while to get the bits and pieces put together, really in many ways thanks to the formation of the downtown district committee. It’s the body that makes the most sense to approve and fund such projects.”

McGill said before the end the year, the North Alley should be closed to traffic and enhanced.

A conceptual design of the North Alley shows ideas for an artistic pedestrian crossing, lighting displays, public art, furniture, awnings, Wi-Fi and charging stations and more. (Submitted image)

“We will put in some basic furniture,” McGill said. “We have a chalkboard mural that we’ll put on the wall so seniors who want to take their senior pictures can draw their own thing on that and not on the brick. We’ll also have an interactive lighting display that is being designed by the DaVinci Pursuit. That’s going to be neat because it will add a security feature, but it really will be something that, as you walk through the alley, you interact with what’s projected.”

Additional funding for the project could be secured through an Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, which, if granted, would begin in July 2019.

After the North Alley is complege, improvements on East Alley will follow. McGill said there is no date set closing it to traffic, but plans include a large painted mural, benches, a lighting display and more.

“We still need to talk to business and property owners to make sure that we address all of their concerns in advance,” she said. “The East Alley is sort of the second phase of the current phase. Matteo’s is already closing it regularly on the weekends. We know another step that we have to take is negotiation of use. Yes, we want Matteo’s to use it, but we also want Moonshot to use it to play games in the alley sometimes, or we want Main Street to play bocce ball in it, or whatever. So, we’ll work out some of that balance. The East Alley will be more open for those types of activities like outdoor dining, a wine or beer garden, weddings, that kind of stuff.”

The South Alley was closed to traffic in 2010, allowing Noblesville Main Street to host its former Thursday Farmers Market and its new Meals from the Market series.

“We’ve also talked to the Hamilton County Leadership Academy about doing socials in the alleys,” said Lorna Steele, executive director of Noblesville Main Street. “Of course, people want to do weddings, businesses want to do their parties, and then just activating it even further with art is going to be really fun. I love this project overall, especially because alleys can sometimes have this negative connotation, So, the fact that we are keeping their historic feel and then using them for really positive, really cool things is so fun.

“We just want the community to enjoy them, and I really don’t want to program the heck out of them. Our vision is to have it be this organic space and whatever comes out of it comes out of it.”

A sketch by Aili McGill shows the articulating and opening archways that will soon be part of the three main alleys that connect to the downtown square. (Submitted drawing)

Other physical changes in all three alleys could include Wi-Fi units, charging stations, murals and other public art, drinking fountains, interactive light displays and more. Perhaps the largest and most notable change will be the addition of archways naming each alley. Names are to be determined, but McGill said she wants to employ the talent of local metalworkers and artists to create the pieces.

Bollards blocking vehicles from driving down the alleys will be removable. Articulated archway signage will utility trucks and delivery vehicles to pass through when needed.

“It is still perfectly possible to have the alleys closed so people can safely come and go and hang out in them while still making sure the businesses can still get what they need,” McGill said. “Really, our goal here is to take what’s already happening, take what people have told us they’re interested in doing and make it safe and easy to do.

“We expect this process of the current facelift of the three alleys to take through the end of 2019, and by the end of 2019, our hope is that it’s going to be polished.”

“From an economic development perspective, creating wealth, generating energy so that our businesses are sustained, that’s our goal,” said Judi Johnson, economic development directory for the City of Noblesville. “For Noblesville, this is our unique landscape. The citizens and the people have created this movement, and it’s our responsibility in economic development and arts and culture to produce. Since 2011, we’ve done $13 million in downtown investment. This is a priority.”

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