Westfield Leaders Endeavoring to Create a Vibrant Downtown
Rebecca McGuckin, a Westfield High School graduate, recalls when Westfield was little more than a dot on the map.
“I remember when it was a cornfield, a Shell gas station and a Hardee’s,” says McGuckin, community collaborator with Old Town Design Group. “I’ve been around to see quite a few changes.”
Through the years the town, now a city, has evolved dramatically, and local leaders and officials have maintained a vision of creating a vibrant downtown that would not only make community members proud, but also attract visitors from near and far.
“For years it’s been a bit like putting together a puzzle, and now the pieces are fitting together to make for this beautiful new downtown,” says Westfield Mayor Andy Cook.
Grand Junction Plaza
The construction of Grand Junction Plaza is the result of a longtime vision among local leaders.
Jeremy Lollar, director of public works, calls it their keystone project – one that started more than a decade ago and is scheduled for completion in December of 2021.
“It’s been the emphasis of driving our vibrant downtown development,” Lollar says.
With amenities like an amphitheater, green space, playground and ice-skating rink, it’s bound to be a hot spot for every demographic.
“The same residents have continued to invest tireless hours behind the scenes in faithfully putting forth the vision [for the Plaza],” McGuckin says. “We’re excited to be invited into the process and step into this space that has vitality, energy and enthusiasm around it.”
One challenge facing the area is getting around and through downtown. That’s why city leaders wanted to be sure that part of the puzzle includes accessibility and safety. According to Lollar, the challenge associated with downtown is the capacity of State Road 32 as well as the functionality of the signal at Union Street and State Road 32.
A number of years ago, the Public Works Department started planning on improvements needed for State Road 32, and assessing how such improvements would affect the community. In 2018 the city entered into a project funded at both the local and state levels, to widen State Road 32 through downtown Westfield in order to handle the volume of future traffic. Specifically, the project is focused on the area between Poplar Street and East Street, and will turn this area into a four-lane section with appropriate turn lanes and a divided median.
“That’s our primary focus on how we are improving the flow of traffic downtown,” Lollar says.
In conjunction with that project, the city is adding a new road alignment – a Jersey Street extension from Union Street, which will head east and tie into the roundabout at East Street. Travelers will have another outlet to head east, aside from the traffic signal at Union Street and State Road 32, improving traffic flow.
One of the city’s primary areas of focus regarding State Road 32, and the reason the preferred alignment was selected, was to ensure a safe, walkable downtown for years to come.
“That gets tricky when you’re looking at a four- or five-lane boulevard section through the heart of your city, so the roundabouts are one of those primary drivers,” Lollar says.
The city will include two roundabouts in the downtown area, in addition to a mid-block crossing.
“It was certainly one of the design elements we had been considering all along – how to get people from the north to the south side of 32 – and I think we’ve done a really nice job given our condition, to be able to accommodate some safe crossings,” Lollar says.
City officials always planned for business to grow around the Plaza. This includes Park Street restaurants, the YMCA, Westfield Wine Vault, Root 31, RIVET Coffee among others. The largest development is the newly expanded Union Square project, which will include residential and commercial development in the city’s downtown area to build retail shops, restaurants, apartments and condominiums.
“We like the variety of opportunities for residents, whether it’s apartments or townhomes, as well as making space for more retail and office,” McGuckin says.
Lollar calls the Union Square project a fun development that may improve over time.
“There is discussion now about a potential expansion to include some property east of Grand Junction Plaza,” he says.
The amended plan includes additional surface parking east of the Plaza, a proposed parking garage and town home development. When the initial Union Square design was proposed, the mayor asked Old Town Design Group to seek feedback from residents, the City Council, and small-business owners. McGuckin recalls attending a Chamber meeting in 2019 when she asked members to use one adjective to describe their wish for downtown.
“I heard words like ‘vital,’ ‘joyful,’ and ‘energetic,’ but mostly I heard ‘parking, parking, parking,’” McGuckin says with a laugh. “It’s fun to be downtown and support local businesses, but you don’t want to spend a bunch of time looking for a parking space.”
Preserving the Past While Building the Future
McGuckin calls Hamilton County an exciting place to live, due to the local government and community residents who care about downtown.
“I think Westfield has a great sense of pride and identity in its roots,” she says.
Joshua Biggs, the community preservation specialist at Indiana Landmarks’ central regional office, calls Westfield a vibrant town-turned-city that has rich and abundant local history.
“Westfield is growing very quickly, and there are some transformative development projects, either in the works or that have been recently completed,” Biggs says. “As is often the case, communities across the country are grappling with how to balance historic preservation, and growth and new construction. Westfield is no different.”
Several historic buildings in Westfield are listed in the National Register of Historic Places, as part of the Westfield Historic District. Biggs’ organization is working with locals on minimization and mitigation efforts regarding affected historic buildings, especially those in jeopardy of being torn down in order to widen State Road 32 through downtown.
“Cities big and small across America have realized the value of preserving historic buildings and have gone to great lengths to incentivize their adaptive reuse,” Biggs says. “We’re all the better for it, because a beautifully preserved downtown creates places where people want to live, work and visit. Who doesn’t love a beautiful and revitalized downtown?”
Biggs notes that in addition to valuing history, downtown preservation fosters placemaking, livability and walkability. It also celebrates historic architecture and creates unique spaces to attract local businesses.
“As Westfield continues to grow and develop, it’s imperative for the city to retain and support the downtown,” Biggs says.
McGuckin feels the city’s recent projects will serve to enhance Westfield for businesses, residents and visitors alike.
“I feel like this is a golden era in downtown Westfield,” she says. “It really is special.”