La Porte: ‘Living the Lake Life’ • Northwest Indiana Business Magazine

La Porte: ‘Living the Lake Life’

City prepares for influx of new residents, development opportunities

La Porte County Courthouse
The iconic La Porte County Courthouse looms over commercial buildings on Lincolnway in downtown La Porte. (Doug Ross photo)

The city of La Porte is gearing up for an influx of new residents. City leaders plan to attract them with quality-of-life improvements and economic growth.

The city also has an ambitious goal of increasing its population to 30,000 by the year 2030.

Since 1970, the city’s population has held steady at about 22,000 people, according to Indiana’s public data utility STATS Indiana.

Mayor Tom Dermody is capitalizing on the outdoor recreation opportunities here. Soon after he took office in 2019, he adopted the slogan, “Living the Lake Life.” Residents can enjoy water skiing, kayaking, fishing, swimming and more without having to travel outside the city.

“When we have the lakes that we have here, when we have the park system that we have here, ‘Living the Lake Life’ made all the sense in the world,” Dermody said.

He likes seeing people wear shirts with the slogan.

“We’re trying to instill that pride of how special our community is,” he said.

Seth Spencer, owner of Sera Group and a La Porte native, appreciates all the city has to offer.

Seth Spencer, Sera Group
Seth Spencer
Tom Dermody
Tom Dermody

“Our office is right on the edge of the trail, so quite literally yesterday we went for a walk,” he said. “People in our office complex go for walks, so I think it’s a great thing there.”

Attracting businesses like Sera Group is Bert Cook’s specialty. Cook, executive director of the La Porte Economic Advancement Partnership, said huge economic development projects in the area are drawing attention to the city.

“Residential is an area that we’re just seeing a tremendous amount of growth in, and then the industrial sector as well,” he said. “Usually, that’s customers, suppliers, service providers for some of these larger businesses.”

Cook pointed out that available property, affordability, the cost of living and quality of life are advantages over other communities.

“People forget we have seven lakes within our city limits, which is a huge quality-of-life advantage for us,” he said.

Business development

Bert Cook
Bert Cook

One of the challenges in recruiting businesses to any community is having available space.

“That may be one of the least understood aspects of what we do is the under-roof space, the availability of buildings,” Cook said.

He said leads come in two ways: companies looking for land to build new facilities or leasing available space.

“We’re not immune to the supply and demand issues that exist,” Cook said. “All of Northwest Indiana has this issue of we just don’t have enough space under roof. Every community struggles with that.”

To meet that need developers are erecting buildings and then trying to fill them. That trend has been a success for La Porte. A 150,000-square-foot building in the Thomas Rose Industrial Park was fully leased before construction was finished.

“That’s a perfect example of how that’s supposed to work,” Cook said.

With the first building such a success, the developer decided to build a second 150,000-square-foot building.

“That will be a really good advantage for us,” Cook said. “It’s very flexible. I mean, that’s what every community is working on right now are these flex spaces where that could be a 25,000-square-foot lease or it could be 100,000 square feet or 150,000.

“You build the buildings in a way to satisfy a whole lot of different end users in the market.”

Thomas Rose Industrial Park was full before LEAP worked with a private developer to expand it by 200 acres in 2015.

Living arrangements

Cook is also interested in bringing additional housing to the city.

“That’s been another focus … working with private developers to build new residential opportunities, whether it’s single-family townhomes, condos, multifamily or apartment complexes,” he said. “Those are all desperately needed.”

Last year, 464 homes were sold in the city, according to Northwest Indiana Realtors Association data. Only 34 of those homes were built in the last 10 years.

Chuck Vander Stelt
Vander Stelt
Craig Phillips
Craig Phillips

“It’s old housing stock,” said Chuck Vander Stelt, who blogs about real estate at and is a broker with Listing Leaders Northwest. “It’s exceptionally old compared to some other cities and towns in Northwest Indiana.”

He said the challenge is creating housing for families as they grow.

“There’s a lot of people who are starting out in life, and they’re finding homes to buy because La Porte does have a lot of lower-priced real estate, which is excellent for the first-time homebuyer category,” Vander Stelt said. “(However), it’s difficult to find homes that are larger and can fit the growing family with more modern core features. It’s hard for people to make the trade up in La Porte, and that’s a big challenge.”

A housing study done for the Health Foundation of La Porte and the city found that an additional 500 to 1,000 housing units are needed just to deal with the backlog necessary to provide for current housing needs, said Craig Phillips, city community development and planning director.

The city is working to make lots available for infill development as well as larger tracts for subdivisions and other larger residential developments, he said.

Vander Stelt projects that in 10 years La Porte will have met those needs.

“They will be blowing away everyone, just building and building and building those larger homes that growing families love to buy, and then La Porte will have almost a stronger economic base than Valparaiso has,” he said.

Making room

City officials are well aware of the housing shortage. This spring, the city completed the annexation of about 1,200 acres on Indiana Route 39 north of the previous city limits. Dermody said that’s just 1 of about 10 annexations over the course of the last year.

“Obviously, a clear majority of people in that area wanted to be annexed, and still others fall into that ‘super voluntary’ category where they’re asking the city to be part of it,” Dermody said. “Ultimately, I think the annexations have been very, very positive for both the city and those individuals whose properties are being annexed.”

The annexations allow for additional residential growth but also commercial.

“We talk about the new residential, but with that comes the expectations for restaurants and retail, and we have to address those weaknesses as well in order to make sure that our residents are finding or able to shop and dine and do all of those kinds of things within our community,” Dermody said.

Among the newer developments in La Porte is NewPorte Landing. That project quickly brought retail shops but also health care and other service facilities. Residential buildings came, too, near the edge of Clear Lake.


Spencer said he often sees people enjoying the trail by his office on East Shore Parkway.

“I’m literally looking at a family — it’s like your most picture-perfect family, kid with a dog on a leash attached to a bike, riding together. It’s a great trail,” he said. “I love the amenities here.”

Fox Memorial Park, which is on Clear Lake, offers park visitors a view of the iconic red sandstone courthouse and downtown across the lake. The park has been upgraded in recent years, with the parking area along the lake improved and the lakefront becoming more accessible this year.

There’s also a trail encircling Clear Lake to help bring people closer to nature while becoming more active.

The Health Foundation of La Porte has been generous in funding recreation opportunities in the city to improve public health, recently retired CEO Maria Fruth said.

The foundation also is exploring the idea of an indoor recreation facility. City Council President Tim Franke, a member of the YMCA board, hopes the downtown facility and its aging pools can be replaced by the new facility Health Foundation of La Porte is exploring.

“Pools are expensive to keep open, especially in a 130-year-old building,” he said.

Mark Schreiber
Mark Schreiber
Tim Franke
Tim Franke

He said a facility like this is important since YMCA facilities have opened in Lake County in recent years.

“It’s attractive as a parent to move to a community where you know that your kid will have these amenities and also for yourself to exercise and have a better quality of life,” said Franke, who also is the president of Duneland Media.

Neighborhood parks continue to see improvements as well, thanks to the parks foundation established in 1984, Parks Superintendent Mark Schreiber said.

“One of their main functions has been to make sure that all of our community’s playgrounds are first rate,” he said. “Within the last 10 years, we have renovated and added equipment to every one of our playgrounds and all of our neighborhood parks.”

Another perk of life in La Porte is the La Porte Civic Auditorium. It recently underwent a $6 million renovation. The historic building was donated to the city by Maurice Fox in 1929 as “a permanent monument dedicated to recreation and social progress,” a plaque in its lobby proclaims.

“It’s built really solid, but we knew we had to make some renovations and make it viable into the next 50 years or so,” Schreiber said.

The La Porte Civic Auditorium
The La Porte Civic Auditorium has undergone a $6 million renovation that includes a new roof and a new HVAC system that now provides air conditioning for the main auditorium room, allowing year-round use. (By Doug Ross)

There’s all new seating in the balcony, which is the main seating area, and the HVAC is new, leaving the main section of the auditorium air conditioned for year-round use. It used to shut down a couple of months in the summer.

The auditorium has been a staple of social life in La Porte for decades. Dermody remembers proms and other events there when he was growing up.

More recently, the venue has hosted the La Porte Invitation. The national high school basketball tournament in early January brings top athletes and ESPN to the city.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas spoke there during the 2016 presidential primary season.

Downstairs, some rooms are being used as classrooms for park activities and life skills lessons.

At Soldiers Memorial Park, La Porte is looking at potentially building a larger venue for up to 225 guests at weddings and other large events.

“We get a lot of calls from people looking for something a little larger,” Schreiber said.

Cummings Lodge, right on the lakefront, can seat 88 in its air-conditioned space plus additional guests on the large deck.

Downtown, which already hosts festivals, has a park on Lincolnway for people to gather.

Downtown plans

La Porte County Public Library’s Exchange building
La Porte County Public Library’s Exchange building brings a large makerspace for hobbyists and entrepreneurs to downtown La Porte. (Photo by Doug Ross)

Phillips hopes to make downtown more attractive for pedestrians by siphoning truck traffic off Lincolnway. A long-term solution is to build a bypass around the city, which has been discussed for decades and is still on the table. Another idea focuses on keeping truck traffic downtown but route it off Lincolnway, perhaps a couple of blocks north. The city is working with engineers on that idea.

“We feel that is a critical step that we need to take to get trucks out of the downtown to improve the quality of life of residents and start to encourage more investment and commerce in the downtown,” Phillips said. “It creates a better, more pleasant environment — and safer environment absolutely — for everybody to enjoy downtown La Porte.”

Phillips also hopes to encourage more residential growth downtown, including above storefronts. More people downtown means more foot traffic for local businesses.

The city is also working with Northwest Health leaders to see how the site of the former hospital on the edge of downtown could be redeveloped.

“If the heart of downtown is strong, the rest of the city is even stronger,” he said.

La Porte County Public Library’s flagship is downtown, but the Exchange building, which used to be a telephone switching station, has become a large makerspace.

“We want people to continue to learn and grow and develop,” Library Director Fonda Owens said.

The Exchange features a commercial kitchen, sewing machines, Cricut machines, wood lathes, 3D printers, CNC machines, a bandsaw and more. There are even video and audio studios available for the public’s use.

Owens said the makerspace can be a way for entrepreneurs to launch a business without investing in equipment before realizing whether the business idea will succeed.

Reasonable expectations

Laura Konieczny
Laura Konieczny
Fonda Owens
Fonda Owens

City Council member Laura Konieczny moved to the city in 2003.

“I find that people are very friendly and engaging and accepting,” she said.

In the 1950s, La Porte was a booming industrial mini metropolis that had a lot of jobs that paid well.

“Unfortunately, over time, jobs were outsourced to other places, including overseas, but that deep-rooted pride, history and the strong foundation that is here is transcended throughout generations,” Konieczny said.

Ten years from now, she hopes, the city will have attracted more great employers that provide benefits and higher-paying wages, but that has to come in conjunction with having the workforce ready, willing and able to meet employers’ needs.

Dermody offers many reasons for people to move here.

“When you talk about businesses wanting to attract people, La Porte is that special place that’s an hour from Chicago, has the lakes, the parks, walkability, safety, and we think, it’s the place to be moving forward,” Dermody said.

That means doing just what La Porte is working on now — attracting not only businesses but also residents who will enjoy the quality-of-life amenities La Porte offers as residents enjoy “living the lake life.”

Update: As the June/July issue was being printed, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced a $1 billion deal that will bring a new 245,000-square-foot data center on 489 acres in the Radius Industrial Park. La Porte Mayor Tom Dermody said, “Projects like this happen once in a lifetime, and their effects are felt forever.” Learn more here.

Make your pitch: Would you like to see your town featured in our “Future Of” series? Tell us why at

Read more stories from the current issue of Northwest Indiana Business Magazine.


Leave a Reply

Scroll to Top