A call for community-wide support of the Lake Michigan Gateway Implementation Strategy was made by civic leaders in Michigan City on Wednesday during a breakfast hosted by the Michigan City NOW community group at the Blue Chip Casino.
The Lake Michigan Gateway Implementation Strategy (LMGIS) is a plan for whole scale improvements in Michigan City to help make it “Indiana’s Great Lakefront Destination Community.” The plan, designed by Hitchcock Design Group over the last year, calls for more year-round attractions, simplifying connections, adopting historical aspects of Michigan City and taking advantage of momentum that has already been created.
“We are already a well-known visitor destination, but we want to take those features and do more to support our future,” City Planner Craig Phillips said while outlining the specifics behind the Strategy for about 100 or so representatives from city departments, non-profits and civic leaders on hand . “We’ve had a lot of good smaller plans and studies, so we have taken all the best elements from them and have drilled it down to decide on how to make this an executable strategy.”
Being organized by Michigan City NOW, the theme was indeed “now.” All who spoke urged that the studies have been completed and now is the time for implementation.
“Plans like the Downtown Action Agenda have been highly touted, and now we have a chance to take those great plans and put them in place to activate them,” said First Ward Councilman Richard Murphy, a supporter of the strategy. “The goal is to create the playbook for the Michigan City comeback story. We have all worked hard over the last year and are thrilled to present the final product, which will use the gifts we have to create better investment in Michigan City.”
Some of the specific plans the strategy calls for are the integration of ziplines at Washington Park, creating a “year-round entertainment district” to complement the momentum occurring in the Uptown Arts District and the addition of hotels, mixed-use development and a “public space we can be proud of” to be located in the area just north of the Michigan City Public Library where City Hall stands now, Phillips said.
Simplifying the connections is a significant part of the strategy as well, with plans to make both Pine and Washington streets two-way fares as “one of the first projects we want to begin implementing” should the project receive the necessary funding, the city planner added.
“We are also planning on making significant improvements to Wabash Street,” Phillips said.
Improving the city gateways is another huge aspect. Phillips announced plans to bring pay the “Michigan City arch” in the Arts District as well as a plan to construct large letters that spell out “MICHIGAN CITY” in front of the Library facing U.S. 12.
“This is interactive, will encourage people to take pictures and embrace this public art,” Phillips said of the idea that will compliment a more walk-able downtown which will encourage active transportation between the Blue Chip Casino, Lighthouse Place Premium Outlets and lakefront.
Part of the gateway plan on the city’s south end, adding another “Michigan City” sign on the I-94 overpass (similar to existing ones in Valparaiso and Lebanon, Indiana) is already in the works as Phillips announced that portion has already been played for and talks with the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) are indicating this will be completed in early 2016.
“We want our gateways to be employed in a manner that you know you are in Michigan City,” Phillips added.
The total investment for the strategy is estimated at $22,366,000, with the bulk ($13 million) being planned for 2015 and the remainder being funded the following year.
Phillips pointed out that while those numbers may seem out of reach to some, the city has already invested more than than amount if you add up recent beautification efforts on Michigan Boulevard and the Elston Grove streetscape project.
“The numbers for those projects combined far exceed the numbers you see today,” Phillips said. “We need to see a return on investment on this. The plan is sustainable, we have a plan for funding resources and we need to capitalize on this opportunity.”
Already receiving endorsements from several organizations including the president of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, who praised the strategy during his visit to Michigan City last week - the strategy does need the support from one entity if this plan is to receive the federal and state grants needed to become a reality. The Michigan City Common Council is expected to vote on adopting the strategy as an official plan for moving forward at their October 21 meeting at City Hall.
“This strategy is the vehicle the entire community can get on board with to move Michigan City forward,” an always-enthusiastic Ric Federighi, owner of WIMS AM 1420, told the crowd during a call to action he made. “Ask your City Council official to adopt this as a document to move forward.”
Federighi said approval from the Council will not only assist the city in winning the much needed grant money, but it will also send a “strong message” that city leaders are behind the plan and in turn encourage investors to the area.
Early indications show at least two Council members (Murphy and Fourth Ward Councilwoman Patricia Boy) will be voting in favor.
“There is no question in my mind this is a great idea,” Boy said during the public question/answer session of the meeting - reminding those planning on attending the meeting to voice their support to “focus on one section of the project and keep comments to under 3 minutes.”
“Meetings can get long, especially if a number of people are saying the same thing,” she said, urging supporters to “coordinate” their efforts.
Other members of the Common Council are Marc Espar (Second Ward), Ron Hamilton Jr. (Third Ward), Duane Parry (Fifth Ward), Chris Schwanke (Sixth Ward) and Don Przybylinski, Tim Bietry and Joe Doyle (At-Large).
Mayor Ron Meer spoke at the start of the meeting on how the strategy is being perceived by officials throughout the Midwest.
“It is impressive to see Mayors from Toledo (Ohio) and Racine (Wisconsin) talk positively about Michigan City because of this,” he said, adding that the city is “poised” to see significant achievement in the strategy over the next two years.
Included in the crowd of interested parties were students from Michigan City and Marquette high schools.
Audra Peterson, director of the A.K. Smith Career and Technical Center and Anthony Sindone, economics professor at Purdue University North Central, were thrilled to see the youth of the community getting involved and learning about these future plans.
“We need to engage the young people to participate in this project,” Peterson said. “We have intelligent, bright and energetic people we want to keep in this community.”
Sindone called for engaging the students and asking “what they want to see here.”
“We need to double our efforts to make sure opportunities stay here,” he said.
Melissa Wood, founder of the Michigan City NOW initiative, thanked the partners that made this presentation a possibility, like Blue Chip, who provided the space and breakfast; Hitchcock Design Group for the strategy itself; NIPSCO for funding the “Michigan City NOW” T-shirts many had on during the meeting and a pair of local media companies who provided the brochures.