It’s been 17 months since the Lebanon Redevelopment Commission accepted the bid from Indianapolis developer Forza to transform the 200 block of S. Lebanon Street to a “mixed use” combination of retail, restaurants and apartments.

Earlier this month, the Lebanon Historic Preservation Committee approved the designs for the development on the west side of the street. Called the Brakeman Building, it will replace the New Life Recovery Home for Men with a combination retail-living space anchored by a space for a restaurant.

“When we started this process, (Forza) was looking at where the Estes building was located, but then the federal tax laws changed with Opportunity Zones which made the west side more attractive,” Lebanon Mayor Matt Gentry said. “They kind of came up with their first proposal and that’s been reworked and fine-tuned. So it’s been quite a while in the works.”

The approval is only for the look of the establishment. Forza still must go through the approval process with the Lebanon Planning Commission, but Gentry is ecstatic about the certificate.

The building would share a wall with Club 39 then south for the rest of the block. Originally, the plan was focused on the former Estes dealership across the street. Plans originally called for a co-working space called the “Shift.” Gentry said the plans now are to tear down the Estes buildings and put up a parking lot.

“We see it as kind of an in-between step,” Gentry said about the former car dealership being leveled in favor of parking. “It will be a finished parking lot, but one day, we want to see a similar building on the other side of the street.”

Gentry added the downtown needs “significant” parking opportunities before the east side of Lebanon Street can be developed. Long range the plan is to bring back the “corridor feel” of Lebanon from 100 years ago. The concept of the new development is called street forward where the buildings are right on the sidewalk which promotes walking, Gentry said.

The Historic Preservation Committee issued a Certificate of Appropriateness which verifies the building facades as well as placement. Sometimes, developers have to get a certificate to tear down a building.

“In order to do that, you have to prove that it’s not economically feasible to try to save those buildings,” Gentry said. “We’ve been in that kind of situation recently. A lot of these buildings have gotten too far away and are not economically viable anymore.”

The Historic Preservation Committee covers nine blocks surrounding the court house, farther out on Ind. 32 and farther south on Ind. 39.

There’s no indication on when the developer could break ground on the project, but Gentry expects that the planning commission will be dealing with it within the next few months. He is hopeful that the construction could start before the end of 2020 with an opening date in mid-2021.

“They’re not going to break ground tomorrow or anything like that, there’s still a process,” Gentry said. “But this is a big first step.”

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