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Marion dreams big

News editor

Boutique shops and restaurants downtown, open well into the evenings. Expanded recreation facilities for youth and adults, including an 18-hole public golf course. New industry at Batt Industrial Park. “Green” transportation. High-speed Internet architecture. New houses and new subdivisions in, old dilapidated houses out. All of these while retaining Marion’s “small town charm” and appeal to families.

Marion in the year 2029 could look like this, and more, based on discussions Monday at a three-and-a-half hour city council work session designed to start building a shared vision for future town development.

While most of those in attendance reluctantly characterized the current state of Marion as either “stagnant” or “in decline,” the group as a whole was upbeat about the town’s prospects.

The freewheeling brainstorming session, facilitated by City Administrator Roger Holter, served another purpose besides looking at what Marion can become.

“Our elected officials are extremely proficient managers of their businesses and personal lives,” Holter said. “However, in the role of an elected official, strategic planning is not a skill set that is generally thought of. The intent to equip them with the skills to not only lead and manage for their term in office, but to begin a governmental legacy that can carry our city forward another 50 years at least.”

Holter said one theme to emerge from the council’s comments was on future directions for economic development. While the town will continue to pursue manufacturing possibilities, the comments for 2029 skew a different direction.

“What they described is more of a services industry tied heavily to tourism,” Holter said.

City government has a role to play in the overall development of Marion, but Holter said the discussions highlighted the importance of the private sector in achieving a 2029-like city.

“Many parts of what was discussed last night was not a public-sector initiative,” Holter said. “It’s a private-sector initiative supported by the public sector clearing obstacles that exist.”

After laying out their ideas for the future, council members identified barriers that could get in the way of development. Resistance to change and getting people involved were mentioned, but ineffective communication among community groups topped the list.

“We don’t play nice with each other sometimes, even sitting in the same room,” Mayor Todd Heitschmidt said. “They don’t want to say, ‘Hey, we’re thinking about this, what does everybody else think?’ It comes afterward. What this process is eventually going to do is bring those folks to the table to communicate.”

Heitschmidt said groups working in isolation can have good purposes that may unintentionally impact others. He cited St. Luke Hospital and Marion Advancement Campaign both working on major renovation projects at the same time, but didn’t know they were pursuing funding from the same source.

“They were applying for the same tax credit we were,” said Heitschmidt, who is also president of MAC.

The work session was a start, but council member Chad Adkins said there is work to do to build broad-based buy-in to the city’s possible future.

“We will have to show there is a broader group of leadership bought into moving it in this direction,” Adkins said.

Council member Michelle Mermis said that will take more than one meeting.

“We can’t just say we met and discussed,” Mermis said, “but we have to show the actual commitment to continue to meet and get people involved.”

Holter said using members of community boards is one way the council will seek input and involvement.

“We have 63 people who have volunteered to serve on community boards in Marion,” he said. “We’ll use a systematic method to reach out to those boards for their input, making the necessary modifications to make sure the council is truly serving what its constituents desire.”

Last modified Oct. 9, 2014

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