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Columbia City fundraising to transform and name alley after soy sauce factory founder

COLUMBIA CITY, Ind. (WANE) — An alley in Columbia City is looking to get a makeover.

The Whitley County Economic Development Corporation, the City of Columbia City and the Community Foundation of Whitley County launched a crowdfunding campaign to transform an alley in downtown Columbia City in honor of a local businessman.

“The design of it, which public space we are going to do and how we were going to raise money, took about a year,” Director of Workforce and Community Development Riley Hollenbaugh said. “Where Ohki came in [we] started to research important figures in our community and our past and Shinzo Ohki would be perfect for this public space to show off what he did for the community.”

Ohki Alley is named after Shinzo Ohki, a Japanese immigrant, artist, and businessman who came to Columbia City in the 1900s. Ohki founded the first fermented soy sauce, The Oriental Shoyu Factory, often called “Show-You.”

“If you read the history he was an incredible humanitarian,” Community Development Director Chip Hill said. “He hired any World War II vet that came back from service and didn’t have a job. He was a Rotarian, a member of the Presbyterian Church. He founded Crooked Lake Golf Course. He was just a great guy and he’s been a great hidden treasure of Columbia City.”

Officials are asking for the public’s help to raise $50,000 dollars to make the alley a more vibrant public space for the community to use and enjoy. If the money is raised by December 28th, the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority will provide a matching grant of $50,000 to help complete the project.

The alley is located between 116 and 118 W. Van Buren Street. The public alleyway will be closed to traffic to create a walkable and usable space to connect downtown Columbia City to parking.

A aerial view of the Ohki Alley project. Courtesy of Whitley County Economic Development Corporation.

When the alley opens officials say there will be something for everyone. At the entrance along Van Buren Street, a small rain garden and artistic bike rack will welcome visitors to the alley.  

A look at the entrance of the alley on Van Buren Street. Courtesy of Whitley County Economic Development Corporation.

Toward the middle of the alley will be flexible seating and beer garden area along with an area for visitors to play games.

A look at the middle of the alley. Courtesy of Whitley County Economic Development Corporation.

At the front of the alley will be a series of movable planters. Through the alley will be murals painted on the walls, movable pavers and more. With the revitalization of downtown, officials are confident the project is just another step to help attract visitors to Columbia City.

A look at the front of the alley. Courtesy of Whitley County Economic Development Corporation.

Once the money is raised, Hollenbaugh say construction would start early spring of 2020 and hopefully be completed in a few months. If the money is not raised officials say the project will not happen and those who have donated will be refunding their donation.

“Every single dollar that you donate will be matched by the state,” Hollenbaugh said. “The reality is that if we don’t use this project another community is going to use it. So for us, it’s now or never for this project.”

Saturday, Nov. 23, officials will hold a fundraiser at Champions Brewery in Columbia City. All proceeds will go towards the alley next door to the brewery. You can also donate online, by mail or in person at the Whitley County Economic Development Corporation.

To learn more about the project and help donate click here.

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