KENDALLVILLE — Mayor Suzanne Handshoe doesn’t like being cooped up inside any more than anyone else.
She, like many people, is looking forward to a brighter 2021 in which people can maybe get back out to doing the normal things they were used to doing in a pre-COVID-19 world.
Aside from that, 2021 is already presenting plenty of work to keep the mayor and city departments busy, with projects ahead that residents should keep their eyes open for.
While 2020 may feel like a wash to many people, Kendallville scratched off some big projects and logged some new developments.
The downtown Main Street streetscape was obviously the city’s biggest project of the year, with the long-awaited $1.57 million project. The Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council also completed and opened The Alley, an alleyscape project next to The Strand Theatre, creating a new gathering spot downtown for people.
But Kendallville also secured its first residential subdivision in decades with the announcement of the 72-lot community Noble Creek launching across from South Side Elementary. After a two-year delay, the city bid and signed a citywide trash hauler, providing garbage and recycling service to all residences in the city.
Neighborhood stabilization efforts, working to revamp and save troubled properties in older neighborhoods, also continued in a more under-the-radar process.
So what does 2021 hold in store for the city?
First off, finishing up and continuing those 2020 projects are top of the list.
“For 2021, the thing first at the top of the list is to finish Main Street with the paving and whatnot,” Handshoe said.
Streetlights are yet to be lit and trees need to be planted, but beyond that the city will be installing benches and trash receptacles and then completing a $350,000 paving project on Main Street and one block east and west on its cross-streets.
Also related to the downtown, Handshoe is excited to start development of a new pocket park at the corner of Main and Rush streets across from city hall. Formerly the site of an abandoned service station, the city usurped ownership of the property via the courts and cleared the building.
Right now, it’s a gravel lot and the site of the new metal-frame Christmas bulb lighted ornament feature, which was new this winter, but Handshoe is looking forward to turning the lot into something more useful to residents and visitors.
The specifics haven’t been revealed yet, but the city will create another gathering place for people to take a load off while visiting downtown or be in use during downtown festivals, while also potentially adding a little green space to the historic commercial corridor.
“I’m looking forward to planning out that pocket park across the street and making that a place people can sit down and enjoy themselves,” Handshoe said.
Kendallville is also looking ahead to residential projects, with the city ready to support and help along new construction and rehab projects.
Noble Creek, the new subdivision being developed by Lancia Homes, hasn’t had any dirt moved to date, but the primary plat is done and infrastructure such as water, sewer and roads are likely to start going in during 2021 to ready the site for new homes.
Handshoe also said the city will continue to support Kendallville Restorations Inc., a nonprofit that has been working to buy and rehab troubled properties and fix them up.
The mayor also noted that Kendallville may get a Habitat for Humanity house in 2021, with more details on that project coming later in the year.
Kendallville also will partner with and help promote more programming at the Community Learning Center in the former East Noble Middle School at Riley and Diamond streets. COVID-19 put a damper on the CLC’s ability to host big events and programs this year, but Handshoe hopes those get to resume in 2021.
The delays due to COVID have not slowed progress at the CLC, however, which has continued to renovate the old school and establish new classrooms and prep for a normal resumption of activity.
“We had somethings planned for Christmas that had to go by the wayside,” Handshoe said, hoping the city will be able to support “their summer markets and whatnot” more this year.
Other than those projects, city officials will be busy throughout the year preparing for the first phase of reconstruction on Drake Road. That multi-million-dollar project is being mostly funded by a federal road grant and will rebuild from Main Street to Weston Avenue with new sidewalks, curbs and pavement.
That project is scheduled to start construction in 2022.
But, if there’s one other thing to look forward to in 2021, Handshoe said it’s the hope that things will get mostly back to normal.
COVID-19 vaccines are now being distributed and the general public could start getting immunized by spring or summer. This year, COVID-19 waned during the summer months, so the virus may also experience some seasonality like flu and other illnesses, which could pave the way for festivals and events to resume next year as the threat from coronavirus diminishes.
Handshoe, who is at-risk for COVID-19 due to having the incurable blood cancer multiple myeloma, has been playing it safe and mostly avoiding public events this year, despite attending those things being one of her favorite parts of the job.
“I obviously am a people person or I wouldn’t be in this position,” Handshoe said. “I tell you it’s killed me, I’ve stayed away and done a lot of virtual meetings and been trying to protect myself with my condition.”
She hopes that the Fairy, Gnome and Troll Festival can return in May for its second year. She’d like to see Main Street packed with Food Truck Friday crowds again. And, the rebooted “Top Gun” film is supposed to hit theaters in July, and Handshoe said she wants to be at The Strand to see it when it drops.
A return to normalcy in local business, activities and events could be the biggest thing to look forward to in 2021.
“I hope that everyone feels like I do, they want to be around people, they want to go to the theater,” Handshoe said. “You think about plays and concerts, I miss all of that.”