By Rodney Richey, Herald Bulletin Feature Writer
ANDERSON, Ind. — Lori Sylvester is more than just a native of Anderson.
She says that her great-grandfather, Ward Wantz, served as the third fire chief for the city.
His station was built on what is now the Key Bank parking lot downtown.
And Sylvester, 45, can see the spot every day from her window across the street, in the Anderson City Building.
Long-range planner and manager of the Anderson Indiana Main Street, or AIMS, program since 2002, Sylvester is the downtown’s most active and vocal cheerleader.
“Absolutely,” Sylvester said when asked if she were still enjoying her job. “It’s energizing, and once you’re done with a festival, you feel like it’s such a success, and you start looking for new ways to do it the next year.
Sylvester, a graduate of Highland High School and Ball State University, works with the Community Development & Long Term Planning Department. When interviewed, she was working on plans for an expanded Little 500 Festival.
“The APD wanted to have the citywide block party the week after the Little 500, and then they said they were going to have a car show,” Sylvester said. “Well, you know how people support downtown and activities. Usually, if you combine activities, you have a stronger crowd.
“I said, ‘If you don’t have this set in stone, then possibly we could join these together.’”
Along with the Little 500 Festival on May 15, AIMS will also sponsor the annual Cultural Festival on June 19, just before the start of summer.
Sylvester said both festivals had grown over the years, but that some events, like downtown lunches, had fallen by the wayside.
“Those were very weakly attended, so we can’t afford the resources to put behind those two events,” she said.
“We’ve decided to go full steam ahead on these two festivals. There will be other festivals and events that AIMS is not hosting but is involved with.”
One of the biggest obstacles she’s had to overcome, Sylvester said, is the deeply ingrained notion that there is nothing to do downtown.
“The irony is, they say there’s nothing downtown, but there’s some 4,000 people down there working every day, and some 400 businesses,” Sylvester explained.
The construction of Anderson Town Center has helped to bring a focal point to the downtown, she said, but there are still people, even Anderson natives who do not know that the center exists.
“You’ve got to be hopeful,” she said, “that maybe people will wake up and see what we’ve done, see how much money we’ve spent, not just the city but agencies and groups.
“Slowly but surely, we’re coming together. But it’s very slow, and I think that the typical Andersonian should realize what Anderson DOES have.”
Contact Rodney Richey, 640-4861, rodney.richey@