Published by The Star Press
Written by Keith Roysdon
Because of occasional showers outside Tuesday morning, groundbreaking ceremonies for Muncie’s new downtown hotel were moved inside the Horizon Convention Center, adjacent to where the Courtyard by Marriott hotel and a city parking garage will be built over the next year.
The convention center location — where officials posed for pictures with shiny ceremonial shovels — was appropriate because the six-story, 150-room Courtyard will serve convention business.
But it was the other major component of the hotel that drew much of the focus Tuesday. The hotel will be a hospitality industry teaching center for the disabled, a plan proposed by the advocacy group The Arc of Indiana and embraced by Mayor Dennis Tyler.
Tyler, who spoke at Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony, told The Star Press afterward that the project would set Muncie apart.
“The economic development side of it is one important piece of the puzzle, but most important is what this project will do for the city of Muncie,” Tyler said. “It will show the state of Indiana and the rest of the country how the city of Muncie and our community feels about helping people with special needs and putting them in a special place in our community and our heart.”
Tuesday’s groundbreaking marked another milestone in the project, which has been in the works for years and was first reported on by The Star Press in January 2013. Officials estimate completion of the hotel by October 2015.
The Courtyard will be the first hotel in downtown Muncie since the Roberts — now the Lofts at Roberts apartments — closed in 2006. The last time a new downtown hotel project was undertaken was decades ago.
The $29 million Courtyard by Marriott is a project of The Arc of Indiana, an advocacy group for the disabled. Although the hotel and Thr3e Wise Men restaurant inside it will serve the Horizon Convention Center, the facility also will be a teaching hotel for the disabled who want to enter the hospitality industry. As such, officials have emphasized, it will be one of the few such facilities in existence.
Scott Wise, whose company owns Scotty’s Brewhouse and Thr3e Wise Men, said locating his restaurant inside the hotel will be a good opportunity for him to expand the Thr3e Wise Men brand.
“But the most important thing, as a Muncie boy, is getting to come back to Muncie and be part of a project that is this awesome,” Wise said.
Citing the burgers, pizza, wings and pickle chips that are staples of Scotty’s, which was founded in Muncie in 1996, Wise said, “For me it’s about teaching people, and not just teaching them how to serve those items but about how to be a member of the community and give back to society.
“To do that with The Arc and know I’m making a difference in somebody’s lives where they’re not getting opportunities like this, I feel very blessed.”
About 25 percent of Wise’s employees at the restaurant will be developmentally disabled.
The heart of the project was summed up by a guest who joined Tyler on stage: Nash Huffman, a 13-year-old with Down syndrome. Nash is the son of Jeff and Jan Huffman, former Delaware County residents who are now Hamilton County health care and disability consultants. Jeff Huffman’s father owned Noble Roman’s and Kitty Hawk restaurants in Muncie, while Jan Huffman’s family owned Steck’s Menswear.
The Huffmans have been advocates of the the Arc hotel project in Muncie, and Tyler acknowledged that Tuesday when he called the smiling 13-year-old Nash to the stage.
Jeff Huffman spoke briefly, comparing the opportunities for the disabled that could be sparked by the hotel and teaching center with the mainstreaming of disabled children into public schools in 1975.
“This is only the next brick in the wall … the next step,” Huffman said.
Huffman then cited a popular quote: “If the dream is big enough, the facts don’t count.”