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Transforming a Town, Igniting a Community

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Taylor Receives Grant from Lilly Endowment to Help Catalyze Development of Upland and Beyond

Taylor University recently received word that Lilly Endowment Inc. has awarded $30 million that will enable Taylor’s Main Street Mile Initiative. This grant—the largest donation in Taylor’s history—will help spur economic and community development in Upland, Grant County, and the wider region. The initiative draws additional dollars to Upland for a total investment of more than $100 million over the next five years. This investment in Upland comes alongside more than $100 million in on-campus improvements that are already underway, representing the largest investment in Upland’s history and one of the most significant investments in a small town in Indiana. This grant was made through Lilly Endowment’s College and Community Collaboration initiative launched earlier this year. It is designed to encourage Indiana’s colleges and universities to work closely with community stakeholders to envision and jointly undertake significant community development efforts to enhance the quality of life and place in their communities.

Perfect Timing

In 2022, Taylor launched a five-year strategic plan called Taylor Thrives. The extensive planning process for Taylor Thrives revealed a deep desire to catalyze entrepreneurial energy not just for the campus, but for the entire region, including Upland and greater Grant County. A major component of the Taylor Thrives process was the call for a Campus Master Plan (CMP) – a framework that guides growth, land use, infrastructure, and resources. As Taylor’s Campus Master Plan was reaching its halfway planning point, the University became more persuaded that Upland had to thrive for Taylor to thrive and that the success of both had to go hand in hand. Transforming the region for all to thrive would enable Taylor to attract the talent and workforce that would support the growth of the University while enriching the lives of all Upland residents.

When Lilly Endowment announced its College and Community Collaboration initiative, Taylor’s leadership knew this represented an incredible opportunity for Taylor and the Town of Upland. As part of the initiative, Lilly Endowment awarded planning grants to participating colleges and universities. Taylor used its $250,000 planning grant to fund an extensive process for the University and local constituents to work together and dream about future possibilities. The grant enabled Taylor to work with an economic development consulting firm, Marsh Collective, to help build a transformative proposal for Upland. Two dozen community gatherings provided an opportunity for twenty-five percent of Upland’s residents to provide feedback and gain clarity on how to bring economic development to the community. In addition, Taylor leadership studied other universities who had success in spurring development in their local communities, including Purdue University, University of Notre Dame, Sewanee: The University of the South, and Colby College.

Building and executing a five-year strategic plan is an enormous task,” said Will Hagen, Vice President for Strategy and Chief of Staff. “But including a plan for your local community also is an even larger undertaking. How amazing it was to have the perfect timing of the Lilly Endowment College and Community Collaboration planning grant to bolster our efforts. All the puzzle pieces were falling into place right before our very eyes, and we were blessed in a way we could not have predicted or planned better ourselves. We also deeply appreciated the collaboration with Marsh Collective. As a multi-disciplinary team comprising investors, developers, operators, and designers with expertise in purpose-driven, catalytic development, Marsh Collective was a key partner in this work and helped refine our vision and engage community and stakeholder support for the proposed projects.”

Taylor is one of six Indiana higher education institutions receiving implementation grants through Lilly Endowment’s competitive initiative. Lilly Endowment anticipates making additional implementation grants in 2024.

“In designing their proposed projects, it was evident that these colleges and universities engaged a wide-ranging group of community stakeholders to imagine and develop creative solutions to pressing campus and community needs,” said Jennett M. Hill, president of Lilly Endowment. “The institutions awarded grants submitted proposals that revealed robust collaborative efforts reflective of the institutions’ willingness to learn from not only campus colleagues but from local residents and businesses to help shape projects with promising potential to enhance the quality of life on their campuses and in their local communities.”

The Plan

The grant to Taylor will partially fund the Main Street Mile Initiative, which will focus on places of immense significance on the one-mile stretch that connects Taylor’s campus to downtown Upland. By strategically nurturing the two anchor points (nodes) and the stretch that bridges the two, the Main Street Mile Initiative lays out a plan to achieve maximum economic impact.

Projects for each node and the land in between include:

Downtown Node: The downtown node will create retail, dining, and start-up space to enable town revitalization, fueled by the spark of activity from entrepreneurs in close proximity. Taylor will collaborate with entrepreneurs and the Town of Upland to catalyze the development of downtown into a vibrant center for commerce and culture. Also included is an expansion of the town library, which is one of the most used libraries per capita in the state of Indiana.

Campus Node: The campus node will create a hospitality destination and multi-generational residential community, including a collegiate inn across the street from the University, a 55+ residential development, and additional housing options for long-term stays in Upland. Investment is also planned for Taylor’s new Horne Academic Center, currently under construction, to house an entrepreneurial and community meeting space for the town and Grant County.

Main Street Streetscape Improvements: In between the downtown and campus nodes, all Upland residents will benefit from the already planned repaving of Main Street as well as streetscape improvements that will expand Main Street’s sidewalks. These sidewalks will allow space for both pedestrians and bikes, and enhanced lighting will improve walkability, accessibility, and safety. Other improvements include town branding and civic identity, instilling pride in the Upland community as well as beautification efforts for homeowners along Main Street.

Trails Expansion: Upland benefits from natural beauty and strong outdoor recreational opportunities including trails and canoe launches. The development project will seek to expand trails that contribute to the Cardinal Greenway trail system, believing this will not only serve local residents well but also attract visitors to the region providing a world-class trail network for trail biking, running, and hiking.

New Academic Programming with practicums to serve the town of Upland: Taylor will launch three new academic offerings to complement the Main Street Mile Initiative and investment in Upland: Construction Management, Entrepreneurship and Community Development, and Hospitality. Over the next year, Taylor’s Provost will work closely with deans and faculty to tailor the curriculum for these new programs with a goal of offering practicums in Upland and Grant County.

“This is a game-changer for Taylor and the Upland community,” said Taylor President D. Michael Lindsay. “Thanks to the generous support of Lilly Endowment, we will have the resources to catalyze opportunity for virtually everyone in Upland and the surrounding area. For years, we have prayed for a way to bless and serve our community in a significant way. Thanks be to God that this year those prayers have been answered!”

Next Steps

These projects and programs will be supported and administered by the creation of a new position at Taylor, a person who will be dedicated to community and economic development. This individual, along with an advisory board of local constituents, will oversee the new community fund dedicated to expanding economic development in our area. Interested individuals should contact Will Hagen at

About Taylor University

For over 175 years, Taylor University has combined rigorous academics with the Christian faith and remains the oldest nondenominational school in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). For nearly three decades, Taylor has been ranked a top Midwest College by U.S. News & World Report. The University’s graduation rate is the fourth highest nationally among peer institutions, and 99 percent of Taylor’s graduates were employed or in graduate school within six months of graduation. With a strong legacy of service and global opportunities, Taylor also ranks nationally for study abroad internships and travel opportunities.

About Lilly Endowment Inc.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based, private foundation created in 1937 by J. K. Lilly and his sons, Eli and J.K. Jr., through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company. While those gifts remain the financial bedrock of the Endowment, the Endowment is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff and location. In keeping with its founders’ wishes, the Endowment supports the causes of community development, education, and religion, and it maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana.

For more information on this story, contact Holly Whitby at

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