Indiana University action plan aims to revitalize Spencer

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SPEA graduate students working on project seek community input

SPENCER, Ind. -- A team of Indiana University graduate students and civic leaders from Spencer are working together to revitalize the town and surrounding Owen County.

The students from the IU Bloomington School of Public and Environmental Affairs are joining forces with Spencer Main Street Inc. and the Owen County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corp. to form the Spencer/Owen County Action Plan.

“My vision for this plan is to give our community direction for our future and deliverables that we can use for marketing of a downtown revitalization plan,” community leader Mike Spinks said. “I want everything for Spencer.”

Spinks has lived in Spencer for more than 30 years and is director of the Spencer Economic Redevelopment Commission, president of Sweet Owen Convention and Visitors Bureau and one of the contacts for the project.

“I like the idea of helping a small town realize its potential,” said SPEA student Laura Gambrel, one of 21 graduate students working on the plan. “I love the natural beauty of the area. I was born a Hoosier and have lived in the south-central part of the state for six years. I look forward to using my education to give back to such a wonderful community.”

Like many small towns throughout the U.S., Spencer -- located 15 miles west of Bloomington with a population of 2,300 -- has seen its once vibrant downtown start to fade. The arrival of a large retail store in 1987, coupled with the movement of stores away from the town square to the major traffic artery through town, served as the catalysts for this transformation.

Twenty-five years after the retail store’s arrival, there have been signs of renewed economic development. Driven by the re-opening of the town's historic movie theater in April 2013 (with almost $4 million donated by the Cook Foundation in Bloomington), several activities are centered on revitalizing the town and the town square area, and improving the quality of life.

The students working on the project are pursuing Master of Public Affairs and Master of Environmental Science degrees in SPEA. They are led by Barry Rubin, a member of the SPEA faculty. Between now and the end of April, the students will work with community and economic development leaders in Spencer and Owen County to research opportunities and provide recommendations for action.

The team is eager for input from those who live and work in Owen County. Comments related to community development can be directed to socactionplan@gmail.com.