GOSHEN - LaCasa and its supporters may have a plan to revitalize the former Hawks Furniture building, but other Goshen residents are wary of the idea.
LaCasa president Larry Gautsche and his development team held an open meeting Thursday night to address any concerns about the organization's move to turn the historic downtown building into housing and studio space for 40 artists and entrepreneurs to bring economic development and a bolstered arts district to Goshen.
Nearly 50 people gathered to listen to LaCasa's detailed plan, which includes offering professionals in the area and around the country low-income housing in exchange for developing into a "business incubator" for future jobs and a "catalyst for future development ofthe Mill Race," as Gina Leichty, president of Downtown Goshen Inc., put it.
"We are at a pivotal part in our history where we're getting known as an arts community and a creative community," Leichty said.
Following its presentation, LaCasa fielded questions from members of the community, who expressed concerns ranging from the financial toll the project will taken on Goshen taxpayers to the uncertainty of Goshen's ability to support 40 new small businesses and doubt about being able to fill all 40 spaces.
"I worked hard to buy our first home," one man in the audience said. "I personally don't want to see any tax money funding this to bring in 15 new jobs in town and get a 10-year tax credit. Maybe with 1,500 jobs, but not 15."
Downtown business owner Ernie Pletcher expressed concern with tax dollars spent on the project the people such a place would attract.
"When you talk 'starving artists.' I'm not wishing to have them in my community," he said after the meeting, calling to question the morals such a group would bring to Goshen.
"I like the idea of Goshen growing and turning around," he clarified, just not with artists' lofts.
LaCasa explained that artists would pay rent based on guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and would use their space to create goods and then sell their wares online or out of town.
Another faction of public comments came from supporters of the plan, who expressed excitement about the project and putting money into restoring historical buildings.
"This community is vibrant and grouwing," said resident Jeannette Post. "This buidling is not doing anything but collecting graffiti."
Gaustche commented on the difference between those supporting and opposing the the plan.
"Everyone that spoke in favor of this project is younger than me," he said. "That's encouraging because that's our future."
The total cost of the project and several other concerns will be revealed at the completion of its marketing research later this year. LaCasa plans to review research results and decide if the project is viable.
"We are looking for people who will give back to this community," Leichty said. "That's the entire premise of this project."