Energetic communities emerging through redevelopment initiatives
When it comes to reclaiming and reusing previously developed land for new building projects, Region leaders say recipes for success include patience, planning and partnerships as key ingredients.
“In one sense, redevelopment is about making the old new again and the importance of keeping a community relevant and going,” said Patrick Lyp, general consul/economic development director and attorney for the Redevelopment Commission in Valparaiso.
“It is a consistent effort. You have to be vigilant, looking to redevelopment, and assuring quality of life and quality of place, and making sure your community is the community of choice by having amenities. It doesn’t just happen by luck.”
Communities across Northwest Indiana want to bring together residential and retail spaces as well as revitalize old industrial sites as part of their planned projects.
Executing a vision
The former ANCO windshield wiper manufacturing site, near the intersection of Campbell and Boundary streets in Valparaiso, is on its way to a new life.
Initially beginning in 2013, the project’s roots are based in the success of the ChicaGo Dash bus service. The line offers a comfortable, express ride by bus from downtown Valparaiso to downtown Chicago.
“We got to the point where the number of riders exceeded the parking lot, and we thought, ‘how can we leverage this good project and grow it,’” Lyp said. “The evolution of the project is partnerships with various entities, including the city, state and RDA (Regional Development Authority).”
Lauren Orchard, Valparaiso economic development coordinator, adds the spot is seen as a public, private partnership that was designated as an Opportunity Zone, which allows for special incentives for developers.
“This is a new program, and there is a lot of buzz around it,” she said. “It’s the only one in Porter County, and it’s very exciting.
Orchard said ChicaGo Dash is linking with the V-Line system, which could make the area into a transit hub.
The project is being led by Flaherty & Collins Properties to build on the transit-oriented base with a proposed mixed-use development, which would include apartments as well as retail, restaurant and commercial space.
“With the retail mixed-use (space), the commuter population would really benefit from that,” Orchard said.
Journeyman Distillery, based in Three Oaks, Mich., wants to be the anchor tenant by rehabbing an almost 130,000-square-foot building and water tower.
While at the initial stages of planning, Journeyman Distillery founder Bill Welter said the project would be a wonderful opportunity in his hometown.
“I think Valpo is a great town and obviously a special place for me having been my hometown, but also being the place where my grandfather Bill and dad Chuck did business at First National Bank,” he said.
Since the bank was sold in 2006, Welter said bringing his brand of whiskey and spirits to the city would continue the family tradition he seeks to cultivate.
“Journeyman has given me the opportunity to carry on the vision my grandfather and father had of having a multi-generational business,” he said. “My hope is that Journeyman can be a great addition to an already great town, that we can have success, but also be a great community partner.”
Beyond the ANCO plans, Lyp detailed ValpoNet, a dark fiber digital infrastructure development project, which began about five years ago.
“We went live with a lighting ceremony in June, and while it’s not as glitzy, it benefits businesses and the community,” he said. “It essentially allows businesses to tap into fiber in a more cost-effective way and be in areas that weren’t served. Our mayor and elected officials look for gaps in community needs. There was a need for more connectivity for fiber, so that plan was put into place.”
Tom Vander Woude, planning director for the town of Munster, sees the mixed-use redevelopment mentality as a reflection of the community.
“People are looking for coffee shops and restaurants they can walk to and a walkable type of community,” he said. “Many cases, you see young families moving from Chicago, who after getting married and having kids, find that city life isn’t sustainable. They are looking for a place in the suburbs and bringing with them the desire for urban amenities, such as the ability to walk to places from their homes.”
Vander Woude said three current and recently wrapped-up projects all have taken obsolete or no-longer-in-use spaces and transformed them. The Munster Shops space on Calumet Avenue was a former Carpetland; Lake Business Center in the center of town was once a Simmons Bedding factory; and Centennial Village was once Munster Steel.
“Our biggest project currently is Centennial Village, adjacent to Centennial Park, which was itself a redevelopment project of a former landfill,” Vander Woude said. “It’s a mixed-use walkable lifestyle community.”
The project is in the process of development with a Springhill Suites hotel and restaurants already in place. More restaurants, retail and commercial space as well as condominiums and townhouses are also in the works.
The Lake Business Center is about three-fourths complete, and is considered a horizontal mixed-use development that encompasses industrial, retail and commercial uses.
“Folks who are working at the hospital have a place for lunch or to meet for coffee,” he said. “It’s about putting people closer to uses they want and need with the idea of eliminating a lot of unnecessary travel.”
Though not as tangible, Vander Woude said the town’s leadership is also working on updating zoning regulations to spur future improvements. The Livable Munster Character-Based Code project is seen as a step toward a more walkable community by emphasizing how buildings connect to the public.
“This project is just as important as it lays the groundwork for future redevelopment,” he said.
“Traditional zoning focuses on use and separation of uses. We’re trying to put into place codes that look at the form of buildings.”
With the U.S. 20 corridor, access to the Toll Road and Interstate 80/94, and a desire to continue to develop what feels like a historic downtown, Portage leadership is taking on a variety of redevelopment projects.
“We grew up in the 1960s, so we don’t have an historic downtown,” said Colin Highlands, special projects manager/redevelopment administrator of Portage. “We are creating a more historic atmosphere with walkability and mixed-use.”
Highlands said this includes the development of Founders Square Park, the splash pad, a recently constructed fully accessible playground, Indiana American Water Amphitheater and Promenade at Founders Square, which is a luxury apartment complex with living space above and retail spots below.
“It’s a large project and walkable environment. We already have started renting units, and people are moving in,” he said.
“Once it’s complete, that will spur additional retail and like-minded developers for more of a downtown feel.”
At the other end of the spectrum is the historic route of U.S. 20, which is mixed use with light retail, industrial and manufacturing.
Highlands said part of redeveloping this corridor is updating nonconforming-use areas. This entails acquiring parcels of land, including residential sections, which were developed before zoning had changed.
“Getting those parcels allows for a consistent plan for the corridor, such as industrial and manufacturing uses,” Highlands said. “It’s great for truck traffic and heavier loads, and those are the types of businesses we are trying to attract.”
Part of the process is acquiring connected parcels of land to provide an attractive package to potential companies, he said.
“Route 20 has great redevelopment opportunities,” Highlands said. “Combining parcels, we may sit on them for five or 10 years, but it’s way more attractive to developers.”
Trails are also a component of the redevelopment package in Portage, he added.
“As the community is growing, traffic is increasing, and it’s important to have alternative modes of transportation,” Highlands said. “Access to trails is a way to a healthy lifestyle and lowers our carbon footprint.”
He said that, when businesses locate in Portage, they see trail connectivity as an asset.
“You have to provide a quality of life, so people want to work and play here,” Highlands said. “You need those things to be attractive for people to live here.”
Route to redevelopment
Creating a foundational function is at the core of redevelopment, said Highlands, citing the demolition of a vacant motel on U.S. 20 as an example.
“We should lay a foundation that promotes the type of development that enhances the viability of our community, both in terms of economics and quality of life,” he said. “Redevelopment in the end is a great facilitator. When we initiate a project, the goal is to complement an area, not complete its use.
“We’re setting the stage for a developer to redevelop property to meet the community’s needs.”
Highlands finds a fresh perspective is another key component to keeping a community vibrant.
It’s not one size fits all with redevelopment, he said.
“You really have to look at your community like it’s the first time, every time,” Highlands said.
“If you don’t do that, you may get complacent and drive by blight or potential opportunities without noticing them.”
The ongoing process can be seen by looking back at accomplishments, while at the same time, looking forward to future initiatives.
Lyp reflects on how far downtown Valparaiso has come, recalling a time when he glanced out his law office window in the late 1990s to little activity.
“It’s important to know where you came from,” Lyp said. “After 5 (p.m.) on any weekend or weekday, there was nothing going on and nobody downtown.”
He said redevelopment is ongoing.
“It’s not just do it at once and rest on your laurels,” Lyp said. “You’ll see the amount of planning involved in any project.”
He remembers that there were questions about the viability of a park and amphitheater in a downtown setting when city leadership launched Central Park Plaza and the Porter Health Amphitheater.
“There were a lot of quizzical looks as parks, traditionally, were meant to be on the peripheral,” Lyp said. Doubts quickly faded when the development debuted.
“On the first night, the park was packed, and kids were running around,” he said. “It was a wonderful feeling to see that project start from abandoned, unused buildings.
“You don’t know. … It’s really neat when it does pay off.”
Orchard with Valparasio economic development said there is no real guarantee when you go down a path.
“You have to continue building off your growth,” she said.