The Michigan City Common Council is expected to pass a resolution at their October 21 meeting supporting the Lake Michigan Gateway Implementation Strategy as the blueprint to move Michigan City forward.
The Lake Michigan Gateway Implementation Strategy (LMGIS) was drawn up by Chicago-based Hitchcock Design Group, who presented an outline for what the city could do in the coming years to improve Michigan City’s connectivity and ensure it as “Indiana’s Great Lakefront Destination” through the addition of year-round attractions and improved transportation methods and increased walk-ability on the city’s north end.
All indications are that the Council is going to pass the resolution. In separate interviews with LaPorteCountyLife.com, seven have indicated their plans to vote “aye” when it comes to the table.
“I wholeheartedly support the initiative,” said Don Przybylinski, At-Large City Councilman, who credited the city’s Redevelopment Commission and City Planner Craig Phillips on their work in piecing together the basics for the plan. “It will take time and investors to come in to town. I am confident everyone on the council will support it.”
The resolution, filed on October 16 in the office of City Clerk Gale Neulieb, indicates the strategy “identifies action steps, their costs, and the projected benefits from taking those steps.”
“The primary principle of the Strategy is to bring private investment to the City at a critical time when the markets will be rebounding and when investors will be looking to bring their dollars back to the market place to the communities that have their acts together and know where they are going as demonstrated by the formal adoption of a road map for the journey,” reads one of the several WHERAS clauses included in the document.
Fourth Ward City Councilwoman Patricia Boy said the city has “nothing to lose” in adopting the LMGIS.
“It takes the best parts of all the previous plans that have been put together over the last couple decades and makes an actual working plan,” she said. “The Redevelopment Commission has the funding for the city projects, and the investors should be attracted by all the city’s investment projects. Making the downtown alive again has been a long time coming after the demise of the Franklin Square project.”
Boy put an emphasis on the residential development included in Hitchcock’s design, which she said will also help bring the downtown back.
“Essential services, such as grocery stores, drug stores, gas stations, and the like would be needed, probably on a much smaller scale than the south end, but this would bring additional tax revenue and more jobs to the city,” she added.
First Ward Councilman Richard Murphy has been at the forefront of supporting the plan at many of the public meetings called to discuss the strategy and at recent ones where Hitchcock’s specific suggestions were made public. At a gathering organized by Michigan City NOW earlier this month, Murphy said the LMGIS should be seen as “the playbook for the Michigan City comeback story.”
“This will use the gifts we have to create better investment in Michigan City,” he told a group of 100 or so interested in the future of Michigan City.
Murphy is also the author of the ordinance, which, when approved, will resolve the LMGIS as “the official guidance document for implementing the redevelopment and improvement of the northern area of the City governed by that Strategy.”
The overall scope of the LMGIS seems to be in favor by all. But some features, most notably the associated costs, have generated some concerns from the public and members of the Council.
Early estimates show that $16 million is expected to be the price tag for the first three years of financing, with the total project cost being anywhere from $23-26 million over six years for the entire project.
“I believe the overall plan is acceptable, and a direction we need to go in - but it is fairly elaborate and $23-26 million over a few years is a very aggressive approach,” said Fifth Ward Councilman Duane Parry, who said he expects much of the money to come from the Redevelopment Commission.
“Some of it could come from grants and other sources, but the city will be on the hook for a large part of it,” he said, adding that while conceptually he is in favor of the plan, he believes it could be scaled down a bit.
“I like the connectivity aspects and some of the plans for the neighborhoods, but the gigantic Michigan City sign like it’s Hollywood is in excess and high maintenance,” Parry said, suggesting the implementation could take place in more of a 5-10 year process and include more focus on the area south of Fifth Street to make it more of a city-wide appeal.
“I’ll have to wait to see what’s in the resolution,” Parry said. “If it’s a generalized overview, I’ll support it, but if there are commitments that I feel are in line with my concerns, then I might abstain.”
At-Large Councilman Joe Doyle shares some of Parry’s concerns regarding the cost and practicality, but did confirm he is going to vote in favor of it.
“The conceptual plan is good, but how much of it is practical?” Doyle asked. “By the time we get some of this stuff, we may not have a need for it. If you get locked into something specific, that’s not good.”
Doyle said he agrees with the city making a comprehensive plan for the future, but suggests looking at what has already worked in other communities.
“You don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “The Gateway is definitely a nice concept, but I’d like to see some of it done in stages because you can never initially count on hidden problems.”
Tim Bietry, another councilman at-large, says that while the dollar amount of $23 million-plus sounds high, the city has set aside around that amount over the last 5-6 years for other improvement projects such as the beautification of Michigan Boulevard, a streetscape overhaul in the Elston Grove neighborhood and the creation of Westcott Park on the corner of the Boulevard and U.S. 12.
“I’m enthused, excited and can’t wait to get going on this,” said Bietry, who was a member of the original committee that put together the Request for Proposal (RFP) and Request for Quotation (RFQ) and interviewed nine or so design groups before selecting Hitchcock.
The strategy, Bietry says, is “all encompassing.”
“I’m sure some (Council members) will object to some parts of it, but I expect that in general everyone will be on board,” he said. “There have been so many plans, but so little action over the years that everyone is excited to move forward.”
Bietry points out that some parts of the plan have already been implemented. Movement has been made on the police station moving from their current location to the Eastport neighborhood and the News-Dispatch building next door is in city hands with plans being made for demolition. Construction to revamp the Warren Building to make way for 44 artist lofts is expected to begin in a few months.
Converting Pine, Washington and 9th streets to two-way traffic is something that should happen soon as well.
“It’s far past the time for that,” said Bietry, who also praised the idea of creating more year-round attractions in Washington Park and likes the “river walk” included in the plan, visualizing it “easily folding into the Singing Sands trail and hopefully opening up Trail Creek to Friendship Gardens.”
“Too often it seems like nothing happens quickly enough, but things are moving and I am happy with that,” he said.
More support for the plan came from Sixth Ward Councilman Chris Schwanke and Third Ward Councilman Ron Hamilton Jr.
“I’m fully in support of it, it’s going to be a real positive thing for Michigan City,” Schwanke said, noting that the resolution that will be heard Tuesday will just be supporting the plan and not placing an estimated dollar amount from the city.
“(The strategy) is a great way to rejuvenate and continue the revitalization that’s happening on the north end,” he added.
Hamilton said he will be supporting it because “it gives us reachable goals to keep moving forward.”
“I like that they can be done in steps so the money outlay is not all at once and overwhelming.”
Packaged with the resolution at Tuesday's meeting will be letters of support of the Strategy submitted by the Economic Development Corporation Michigan City (EDCMC), Washington Street Historic Neighborhood Association, Michigan City Mainstreet Association, League of Women Voters of La Porte County, Michigan City North End Advocacy Team (MCNEAT), Michigan City Area Chamber of Commerce, Sheridan Beach Homeowners Association, Michigan City Urban Enterprise Association, Michigan City Public Art Committee, Michigan City Parks and Recreation Board, Michigan City Historic Review Board, Elston Grove Neighborhood Association and La Porte County Convention & Visitors Bureau in addition to resolutions in support of the strategy submitted from the Plan Commission of Michigan City and Michigan City Redevelopment Commission.
"The Economic Development Corporation Michigan City highly recommends the adoption of this strategy as we believe that it will send a strong message to the private investment community that Michigan City is not only ready but 'open for business.' The time is now for the LMGIS to be adopted as this document has unprecedented large and unified community and business support," wrote Clarence Hulse, executive director of the EDCMC.
Second Ward Councilman Marc Espar could not be reached for comment.