Painting the town red…

The effort to make below-ground improvements in downtown Vandalia has begun. In the near future, improvements to the streetscape on Gallatin Street will get under way.

And as those improvements are made using city, state and federal funds, Vandalia Main Street volunteers will begin adding their own enhancements to the downtown business district.

Main Street’s design committee plans to kick off its “Paint the Town” program sometime in April by painting the exteriors of three downtown businesses.

At the Illinois Main Street convention, Vandalia Main Street Program Manager Dana Whiteman and some program volunteers learned how such a program was used to improve the business district in Princeton, Ky.

Then, Steve Barker of Vandalia Main Street’s design committee spoke with a Princeton Main Street volunteer at the national Main Street convention.

Barker was impressed with what he’d heard about the improvements in Kentucky, and how the community got on board with the project.

“They raised $30,000 in three years,” he said. “The people there really got excited about the program, especially after they beginning seeing how it was making their downtown look so much better.”

Now, Barker and other members of that committee – which includes chairman Brian Kinney, Bret Brosman, Kevin Budny and Rich Jenner – plan to visit Princeton on Friday, April 3, to see first-hand how a “Paint the Town” program can enhance a business district.

The team of local painters will start out by painting the exteriors of Celebrations Party Supply in the 400 block of West Gallatin Street, Clymer’s TV & Appliances in the 500 block of West Gallatin Street and Higgins’ Cleaners in the 200 block of South Fifth Street.

“We’re starting out with ground-level projects, with some easier ones,” Whiteman said, “to get the program kicked off and show people what kind of impact something like this can have on our downtown.”

For now, the painters include the members of the design committee. But others are welcome to join in, Whiteman said.

“In Princeton, they started out with just a few volunteers, and as some buildings were painted, other people decided that they would like to get involved,” she said. “Certainly, we’re opening this up to anyone who wants to help.”

Vandalia Main Street will be using color schemes that were developed by Illinois Historic Preservation Agency architects as they creating drawings for a number of downtown buildings.

“We’re pulling those drawings out of our archives and seeing which ones have not yet been implemented, then going to the owners of the buildings to see if they would like to get involved in this program,” Whiteman said.

Vandalia Main Street is buying 25 gallons of paint for the project, and Walt and Paula Barenfanger, owners of Kaskaskia Supply and Rental on Progress West Drive, are donating an equal match.

Barker, whose interest in older structures is evident through the work that he and his wife, Michelle, are doing on their house at Sixth and Edwards streets, is excited about what the program can bring to downtown Vandalia.

“When it’s done, it will be a total transformation (of the downtown),” Barker said.

No time could be better than the present to get the program kicked off, Whiteman said.

“The timing is perfect,” she said. “While the city is investing all of this money into enhancing the downtown, we thought it’s the right time to be sprucing up the businesses, as well.”

All of that together, she said, won’t make Vandalia’s downtown what it was 40, 50 or 60 years ago, but then, nothing would.

“A community’s downtown, in the past, was where everyone went to get everything they needed,” she said. “Like other communities, Vandalia has outgrown its downtown somewhat, the face of the community has changed.

“So, today, communities like Vandalia have such things as gift shops, antique stores and professional services in the downtown. That is our niche – providing special things in our downtown for both local residents and the tourists who come to Vandalia,” Whiteman said.

“The bottom line is that the downtown has always been the heart of our community, and it always will be, so we should do whatever we can to make it more attractive, more vital,” she said.

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