(La Porte, IN) - The City of La Porte is working hard on many fronts to catch up and stay ahead of the times to realize a vision of being more of a destination.
Updating an old housing stock and trying to transform downtown into a pedestrian-friendly gathering place are just some of the examples of what's happening to make sure LaPorte is in the minds of visitors, job creators, and prospective new residents.
The latest step into the future is the recent completion of 70 resort-type apartments featuring amenities like a swimming pool across Clear Lake.
Two other structures containing another 130 resort-type apartments at the site are expected to be available for rent in the fall, said Bert Cook, Executive Director of the La Porte Economic Advancement Partnership. The development is in response to greater demand regionally and nationwide for a more upscale and maintenance-free lifestyle.
"The single-family home maybe in the '70s and '80s was almost everybody's desire. Times have changed. People really like that style of living," Cook said.
Upscale apartments are also going up beside Fish Trap Lake, and similar housing is on the drawing board next to Beechwood Golf Course.
In addition, affordable new housing recently opened in the former poorly maintained, cockroach-infested Monroe Street Apartments condemned in 2020. The 39 unit downtown building under new ownership underwent a complete remodeling.
The city demolished some residential structures in poor condition using Community Block Grant Funds. One such property is the former Tibma Bakery site. Recently, Habitat for Humanity announced a partnership with the city to build new housing on that lot.
In recent years, trendy apartments have also been created on the upper levels of several downtown buildings acquired by private investors contributing to Mayor Tom Dermody's broader strategy for growing the city's population by one-third to 30,000 by 2030 by becoming "the place to be."
Dermody is also pushing heavily for the construction of a four-lane highway around the city to reduce heavy truck traffic from downtown. In November 2021, President Joe Biden signed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that the city hopes will help fund some estimated $100 million corridor costs.
Officials believe more people will be attracted to downtown to visit shops, restaurants, and special events if there isn't a high volume of heavy trucks, making them feel unsafe.
Using a similar playbook used in communities like Valparaiso, whose downtowns were revitalized once alternate routes were provided for heavy trucks and things like an ice skating rink and band shelter created for people to do, the city hopes to reshape how citizens engage local businesses.
LaPorte is also seeing recent success in growing what's already a good-sized industrial base for a community its size. Two manufacturers are operating from a 150,000 square foot building constructed last year by a private developer leasing the structures at Thomas Rose Industrial Park.
Other private investors will soon begin constructing two 100,000 square foot buildings for companies to rent along Boyd Boulevard just south of Indiana 2. More job opportunities are viewed as another way to attract new residents.
The city has done other placemaking projects like providing trails and a kayak launch on and around its lakes with the partnership of the Healthcare Foundation of LaPorte. The next phase of the Chessie Trail is expected to begin in 2022.
Access to high-speed internet from anywhere in the city is also being made possible from a joint venture between the city and Surf Broadband Solutions. The laying of fiber optics throughout the city is nearly complete. Cook says that the bulk of the expansion is already completed.
According to Mayor Dermody, the city is trying to capture some companies and residents leaving Illinois to escape high property taxes. Another goal is keeping more high school graduates and enticing former residents back to the city. Indiana has long had a "brain drain" problem with college graduates choosing to live in more urban parts of the state or other states altogether.
Officials are also hoping to tap into the growing number of visitors and new residents anticipated on the southern tip of Lake Michigan once the construction of a second rail line for South Shore commuter trains is completed. The double-track line about to begin being laid from Michigan City to Gary is expected to reduce travel times by rail to and from Chicago significantly.
Cook believes the rail project is an example of good things happening in the region producing benefits locally and making Northwest Indiana stronger.
"In order to have a robust regional economy, we all have to do our part. We all have to grow our communities. We all have to increase opportunities and succeed in order for our region to be the type of area that people want to visit, people want to live in, people want to work in, and companies want to operate in," Cook said.