Next Act, the Jasper Community Arts Commission, the Jasper Public Library and representatives of the city’s downtown area are collaborating to raise $8 million for improvements in the center of the city.
The collaboration is under the umbrella of Jasper LEADs, and it has already received its first donation — $1.7 million from Jim and Pat Thyen.
Jasper LEADs — which stands for library, enrichment, arts and downtown — and the donation were announced this morning by Mayor Terry Seitz.
“We want to make something valuable to all of us even more valuable,” he said, “even more viable.”
The donation is a challenge grant to draw the community, public and private to match the amount in donations. Jim Thyen said he and his wife, Pat, brought the challenge to Seitz in March to support the efforts being made to improve the quality of life in Jasper and Dubois County.
“For us as a community, it’s about growing and sustaining employment,” said Jim Thyen, who is a retired president and CEO of Kimball and a strong supporter of local arts. “We believe the key to growing and sustaining is a bustling civic center. The arts is needed for sustaining our community.”
The couple noticed that several projects were going on all at the same time, “but they each seemed to be working somewhat in a silo,” Jim Thyen said. “We felt they all should work together, and we thought the mayor should be the one leading that collaboration.”
As part of the grant challenge, the Thyens also requested that all the entities work together as one, that some of the money go toward programming, that funding be used to conduct some renovations at the current arts center and that the commitment be made that a library is definitely built.
The Jasper LEADs team includes Seitz, Jasper Library Board President Dean Vonderheide, Library Director Christine Golden, Arts Director Kit Miracle, arts commission member Linda Kahle, Next Act member Courtney Knies, former Jasper Councilman Dave Prechtel, City Attorney Renee Kabrick, Finishing Touches business owner Maureen Braun and, as an advisor, Brad Ward of the Council on Foundations.
The money will be used on multiple fronts.
One is the Jasper Cultural Center, a project that will use the former Hoosier Desk site at Third and Mill streets to house a new library and arts space for programs. The money will also go to the ongoing effort to renovate and reopen the Astra Theatre, in the southwest corner of Courthouse Square (the stage at the Astra has already been named the Jim and Pat Thyen Performance Stage after the couple donated $100,000 in the move to save and renovate the historic venue). Improvements to the downtown area, which was laid out in the city’s downtown/riverfront master plan in December 2013, will also benefit from the funding; some of the ideas in the plan include slightly narrowing the street to create more space for sidewalks, adding landscaping that buffers stormwater runoff, creating handicapped-accessible space between the cars and sidewalk, creating spaces and adding seating around the Square that encourages people to gather and hang out, and emphasizing programming for more arts and culture activities on the Square. The plan also proposes that Main Street south of the Square have a median, parking lanes flush with the sidewalk (rather than diagonal as they are now) and a bike lane.
Some donors contributing certain amounts can also get naming rights of aspects of the cultural center and downtown projects.
Pat Thyen, who is a longtime member of the Jasper Community Arts Commission and strong supporter of the arts, urged everyone to participate and contribute.
“Please, please remember,” she said, “no donation to the capital campaign is too small.”
The $8 million campaign will conclude in August. Seitz was confident the community will respond.
“We will not let you down,” Seitz told the Thyens. “We will complete this challenge.”
Information about donating can be found at www.jasperleads.org.