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Two Years After Fire, Future Of Loogootee's Downtown Uncertain

Loogootee empty lots

Just more than two years ago a fire devastated the small town of Loogootee. It damaged seven businesses, reducing many to rubble. Much of that land remains empty.

Locals hope that will change soon. But finding a business to buy into the idea is proving challenging.

Most Businesses Reopened After Fire

Just about everyone in Loogootee remembers where they were on Nov. 12, 2014. A fire broke out at Rosie's T-shirt shop and quickly spread.

"We were preparing for Christmas open house and I was making Christmas arrangements in the back of Laurie’s flowers," says Deanna Ingersoll, a floral designer with Hometown Flowers and Gifts. "And someone came in and said there was a fire and very suddenly smoke started pouring in the building."

It was the talk of the town. And it even made national news.

"At the time this was in the Wall Street Journal," says Mayor Noel Harty.

But, today, this block tells a different story.

"Thankfully almost everybody that is still in business today, they’ve been able to relocate," Harty says.

"I think the shop has come back tremendously."

Only two of the seven businesses that were damaged that day decided not to reopen. The rest are still here in Loogootee, just in slightly different locations.

Rosie’s moved to a building next door. And what used to be Laurie’s Flowers is now called Hometown Flowers and Gifts. It sits on the same block, but in a different building.

"I think the shop has come back tremendously," Ingersoll says.

The community played a large role in helping businesses like the flower shop get back on their feet quickly after the fire.

But, more than two years later, several empty lots remain in Loogootee’s downtown.

And there are no concrete plans for what to do with the land.

"I think that there’s loads of possibilities," Harty says.

Community Sees Empty Lots As Opportunity

Loogootee’s downtown isn’t exactly bustling – the small town has just over 2,000 residents.

But the empty lots sit on a prime location. A busy stretch of 231 passes right in front.

And locals hope an entrepreneur or developer will see that as an opportunity. They have plenty of ideas for what they’d like to see pop up here.

"Maybe eating establishments or coffee shop, ice cream shop type of thing," Ingersoll says.

But the biggest obstacle is money.

"The amount of financing that's out there right now, they only give so much to each community."

There are plenty of ideas out there, but building a shop from the ground up is expensive and there’s little assistance available. That’s why most proposals haven’t moved past the idea stage.

"I just left a business five or ten minutes ago and he was kind of shooting out an idea," Harty says.

One company hoped to secure a grant to build storefronts and housing here, but that plan fell through.

Harty would like to help his city draft a comprehensive plan. He thinks it could help, but the problem is that costs money, too.

"The amount of financing that’s out there right now, they only give so much to each community," he says.

Redeveloping the land is further complicated by the fact that it’s not all owned by the same person. The city owns one lot and the rest are the property of various business owners.

So, for now, this portion of the block will remain empty – a symbol of a town that survived a devastating fire but hasn’t fully recovered.

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