“Community development is the key to economic development,” Jonathan Perez, Upland town manager said.
As the community of Upland evolves, the local government seeks to invest in it economically. This investment is making tangible waves through the downtown area and overall appearance.
With growing funds, downtown Upland will have a different look by 2023.
“People are really excited about it,” Ashley Tiberi, a resident of Upland said. “I think it is going to bring a new ambience to the downtown area. It has the potential to be a draw from people outside of Upland to stop in Upland, and not just drive right through.”
Taylor University came to Upland in 1893, after its founding by Jacob Bugher in 1860. The town was a depot point on the Indiana Central Railroad. It was believed to be the highest spot on the rail line connecting Columbus, Ohio and Chicago, Ill.
The downtown was originally designed for use by those on the railroad, but is now home to several local shops and storefronts.
An extensive master plan that seeks to progress and expand North Main Street of Upland was approved in 2015.
The master plan has lofty goals: the establishment of a historic downtown district, improved parks system, the creation of a pedestrian corridor on 2nd Street and improved town facilities.
“The downtown is going to look like what you want every downtown to look like, it will be really nice,” Perez said. “Our website details the plan with streetscape projects, islands, trees and low-level lighting.”
A first-generation American of Cuban descent, Perez joined the town of Upland as town manager in 2017. He oversees and manages all administrative and development efforts in the town.
Since his arrival, Upland has been awarded $1.4 million by the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) for the downtown project. Additionally, in the past four years, the town has received roughly $5 million in grants and gifts, with goals to continually advance infrastructure.
“Are you a mover and a shaker?” Perez was asked. “Yes,” he said. “The phrase ‘we have always done it this way' is the most mind-numbing and infuriating phrase to me.”
Perez is younger, offering a differing perspective to the governing team. He is focused on bettering infrastructure and bringing new residents to the Upland area, giving them a chance to establish their lives.
In the 2000 census, Upland was the only town in Grant County to grow in population. The town population rose 15% from 3,295 people to 3,803 people.
“I think we are positioned to benefit by improving infrastructure so that we can support more rooftops, and get people to live here,” Perez said.
As a political appointee, Perez’ days are characterized by meeting with the Upland Town Council, composed of five core members.
Perez communicates daily with the president and vice president of the council.
As the team works together, they conduct public meetings on the first and third Tuesdays of each month. Additionally, the team meets regularly with constituents.
“I met with Jonathan Perez myself two weeks ago to talk about communication within the town,” Tiberi said.
According to Tiberi, two foremost issues are facing Upland residents; a need for better housing, and well-paying jobs.
“There are so many moving parts to improving those kinds of things,” Tiberi said. “But, everything involves money and planning.”
“It is important to not just throw money at a problem, but to actually plan and work towards a long-term solution,” Perez said.
For solutions to work, there must be cooperation between all people within the community. Taylor plays a pivotal role within the town both financially and developmentally and is part of the cooperation needed to aid in the success of Upland.
Taylor has left its handprint on the community for 128 years, giving it the position to be a part of solutions within the town.
An edition of The Echo published on Oct. 11, 1921 highlights the long standing partnership between the two entities.
“The students felt more at home among their own members as well as among the people of Upland; and it is hoped that this tie of friendship will become even stronger during the school year; that the interest of the town's people shall be the interest of the College and the interest of the College be the interest of the townsfolk,” The Echo reads.
Residents in Upland have not always felt this strong connection, though.
“People that do not have an association with Taylor may feel like there is not a true desire from the students to get to know people here, their needs, and their desires,” Tiberi said.
Tiberi believes Taylor students could be more proactive in being a part of the town, making the present day relationship beneficial and symbiotic.
“There is a lot for Taylor students to learn from Upland, and there are so many ways that Upland could benefit from Taylor students,” Tiberi said.
To help be a part of the solution, students can get involved with small businesses such as The Bridge, Ivanhoes, Greek's Pizzeria, and Walnut Creek. There are nonprofits to be a part of too, Helping Hand is a thrift store, food pantry, furniture assistance program and job application assistance social service located at 64 W. Railroad St.
To specifically work with Helping Hand, contact Beverly Pugsley at (765) 251-1917.
As Upland seeks to develop its community and gain economically, Taylor students can play a role in improving the long-term relationship by investing in local business.