It’s the largest single gift ever given by the Wells County Foundation. So large, it’s actually six times larger than the previous largest gift the organization has ever given.
On Tuesday, the Wells County Foundation presented $300,000 to Bluffton NOW! (New, Old, Wonderful).
“We’re thrilled to have them as a partner,” said Michael Lautzenheiser Jr., NOW! president. “This will make the project a more timely reality.”
With the gift, the foundation retains naming rights for the proposed plaza, however a name has not yet been chosen.
Foundation board president Mitch Harnish said, “I think that this is an important message the Foundation is sending to the community in supporting this project.”
He added that it is also a testament to the foundation’s stability, the ability to be able to offer such a large sum for downtown revitalization, and to the ability of Foundation Chief Executive Officer Tammy Slater to manage the foundation’s funds.
Following a $25,000 grant to Wells County Revitalization Inc. in 2017 for the plaza project, Slater said the foundation was approached earlier this year about possibly giving a more substantial gift.
“Citing the belief of Bluffton downtown’s important and unique role not just to the city, but the entire county, the very broad-based community impact and the fact that the downtown area, in the very near future, will be the foundation’s ‘front and back yards,’ a unanimous decision was made to award this largest one-time grant,” Slater said.
The foundation has purchased the Market Street Centre on the downtown’s west side to serve as the foundation’s headquarters starting next year.
The plans are to pay the $300,000 over a three-year period.
“The Foundation Board accessed funds from operating reserves, which were generated from administrative fees charged on each of the foundation’s funds,” Slater said.
She explained that each of the foundation’s funds are charged a 1 percent fee for professional investment services and administrative management of funds internally.
“The foundation is committed to a conservative approach with regard to its annual operating budget, which has resulted in making these funds available to invest back into the community, while still sustaining funding of its operations,” Slater said, adding, “Unrestricted funds, those utilized for the foundation’s three competitive grant cycles annually will not be utilized for this grant.”
Bluffton NOW! has launched a $1.1 million campaign to demolish the 1875-built Gardiner-Ogden/Lesh and Brickley block — downtown Bluffton’s second-oldest structure — and replace it with a large, open, grassy area with trees and benches aimed at hosting community events such as farmers markets, events hosted by the parks department, and to serve as a natural gathering area for people downtown.
The $300,000 gift presented by the foundation will pay for about 25 percent of the project.
“Construction work will start happening this year and will probably wrap up some time next year,” Lautzenheiser said.