Cannelton Can: Preserving history while looking to the future

By Paola Capo posted 18 days ago


This fall, the AIA Communities by Design visited Cannelton, Indiana. Below, find a summary of the process and the recommendations presented by our team. You can read the full report here

Project Background and Process

In late 2019, Cannelton applied to the AIA for a Sustainable Design Assessment Team (SDAT) to provide recommendations for the future of the Can Clay site. In March 2020, AIA Team leader Terry Ammons and AIA staff visited Cannelton to conduct an initial scoping mission for the project. This visit occurred just days before the onset of the global COVID pandemic, which subsequently postponed the full community project indefinitely.

In early 2021, AIA and Cannelton representatives began to explore the possibility of holding a circumscribed version of a design assistance team project in an in-person but modified format. The ongoing pandemic unfortunately constrained the AIA’s ability to hold large-scale community engagement meetings, thereby confining the community’s input opportunities to extremely limited virtual surveying. The team feels strongly that an extensive community engagement process will be a critical element for success once the community begins to move forward with the implementation of the SDAT recommendations.

Key recommendations
Cannelton has a remarkable collection of historical buildings in a cohesive downtown area. Those buildings, plus Cannelton’s commercial history in the Can Clay site, provide many opportunities to reinforce the city’s character by using it’s own traditional materials into planning for Downtown and beyond. A summary of our team’s recommendations can be found below:

Revitalization strategies

  • Cannelton must be the steward of its community assets with an eye towards the future. Driving stewardship can be done across all levels of the community – create a day of caring to clean up public spaces, encourage property owners to align and have clean up building days, etc.
  • Develop effective communication channels and emphasize community engagement. To have quality results, it is important to incorporate diverse people, voices, ideas and information in the equation.
  • It is critical to create a preservation strategy for Washington Street to support its unique character and charm.
  • Improve public spaces to breathe new life into Cannelton and work on connecting Cannelton to nearby cities.
  • Develop a methodology for assessing and assigning value to existing resources.

Downtown planning

  • Increase traffic with better wayfinding and branding, focusing on what is special to residents and visitors.
  • To increase folks visiting downtown, make more connections to regional recreation, including a greenway along the Ohio River.
  • Focus development on Washington Street, including connections to the Ohio rive and the Can Clay site, as well as beautifying the flood wall.
  • Build on the 2013 Plan to identify development zones and districts.
  • Find various ways to attract local services while also building visitor infrastructure.

The Can Clay Site

  • While there are limitation on state and federal assistance due to it’s acquisition process, there are still ways to align future efforts and site ownership to better position the site to take advantage of grant-funded assessment and remediation.
  • Address conditions outlined in the IDEM – Notice of Violation Letter by Solid Waste Division & subsequent IDEM – Summary Letter of Compliance Assistance Visit on 10/21/2020 and gain compliance with state regulations.
  • Take action to gain future federal and state brownfield grant funding eligibility for the Can Clay site.
  • Approach the Can Clay site redevelopment in a staggered/phased approach according to community goals informed by environmental site conditions in Focus Areas.
  • Ensure that additional brownfield sites, and environmental conditions witnessed throughout Cannelton are addressed.
  • Zone the site—Divide the Can Clay site into smaller planning areas to then consider future uses.

Beautification & Placemaking

  • Use volunteers (residents, business owners, etc) to start improving the look and feel of downtown immediately.
  • Use community meetings to strengthen a sense of community as well as prioritize community projects.
  • Organize a placemaking initiative as soon as possible to begin to engage the entire community. Focus on tactical urbanism.
  • Leverage different kinds of public art such as landscaping/ demonstration gardens, parklets and street installations, etc.

Making It Happen

  • Use both carrots and sticks to address blight.
  • Explore more funding strategies to put plans into action. Consider funding from organizations like TIF, OCRa, CARES, ARPA, etc.
  • Look to case studies from other cities across the country for more inspiration (several included in this report).
  • Stop the civic demolition! End the divisiveness to find new paths forward for success.

 To learn more about these recommendations, read the full report here.