Students in Ball State University’s Urban Planning program have set up shop in the Muncie Mall to help community leaders develop a Comprehensive Plan for Delaware County.

A former storefront now serves as a community design center where students can host meetings, conduct research and interact with residents as they help build a framework for the community’s future.

Financial support for leasing the 8,900 square-foot space came from the City of Muncie, the Delaware-Muncie Metropolitan Plan Commission, the Ball Brothers Foundation and Ball State’s own R. Wayne Estopinal College of Architecture and Planning. The Muncie Mall is currently owned by The Woodmont Company and is under new management.

Mayor Dan Ridenour, who linked Scott Truex, chair of Ball State’s Urban Planning Department, to Chataun Porch, General Manager of the Muncie Mall, called the community design center innovative.

“The retail world is changing, and we are excited to finally see innovative thinking in the Muncie Mall thanks to The Woodmont Company. When you’re willing to think outside the box and work with non-retail space, collaboration like this can happen,” Ridenour said.

Other partners in the project include the Muncie Action Plan, Next Muncie, and the Muncie-Delaware County Chamber of Commerce.

About 30 students, a mix of undergraduates and graduates, will work with a professional planning consultant to develop the plan, according to Truex, who is an associate professor of Urban Planning.

“This plan projects where Delaware County and Muncie wants to be in 20 years,” Truex said. “We are talking about future land use, transportation, housing, employment. Anything that has to do with economic development.”

Truex said the mall is the perfect location because it’s “out in the community” and offers plenty of space to safely host meetings and allow for physical distancing.

The comprehensive plan could even include recommendations on how to revive the Muncie Mall. Changing consumer habits have resulted in storefront vacancies at the facility and at malls throughout the U.S.

Truex said he is excited that his students will have a real-world experience that both prepares them for their careers and benefits the Delaware County community.

“They’ll get an inside look at how a consultant works and be able to observe them right in their backyard,” he said.