Whether you are looking for a great new restaurant to try or want to attend a local farmers market or festival, Downtown La Porte has something for everyone. The downtown area, an official Indiana Main Street Community, has been steadily growing and welcoming new businesses over the last few years and is planning to continue to grow into a family-friendly and pedestrian-friendly area where you can grab a great meal or attend a local event.
“We recognized that traditional retail doesn't really exist anymore. As that has changed the landscape of commercial development here in La Porte, we had to adjust our downtown," said Bert Cook, Executive Director of the La Porte Economic Advancement Partnership (LEAP).
Finding a way to appeal to the community and meet their needs became a focus for the work that Cook is involved in at LEAP, and through that they were able to implement a steady growth plan to revamp the area.
“We started focusing on unique and independent dining establishments,” Cook said.
This initial strategy included appealing to restaurants that are independently owned and operated, and places that offered a great menu and atmosphere for patrons.
“We are also looking at professional office spaces, that don't rely on volume of traffic to operate, and then our third pillar of growth is residential buildings.” Cook said. “We recognize that people want to live in that atmosphere, especially young people who want to be part of the action."
Since there has been so much growth in the area, there has been a large increase in foot traffic along the streets of downtown. The long term vision for Cook and his team is to keep building a pedestrian-friendly downtown area in La Porte and make it more walkable and safe.
“We are not there yet; there is still a lot of auto traffic in our downtown area. Our next step is to make it more comfortable for people walking," Cook said.
The business owners of downtown La Porte came together to talk about the growth, how they can help each other, and how LEAP can help support them further through a Small Business Coalition. The Coalition, run by Charity Hlavsa who owns Hot Spot Cafe in downtown La Porte, provides the opportunity for business owners to connect with La Porte Mayor Tom Dermody through quarterly meetings.
In addition to the large selection of restaurants to visit in the area, Downtown La Porte has a full calendar of events and celebrations to choose from throughout the year. The downtown area hosts a farmers market each summer, along with various movie nights that will be returning this year, and a local favorite, the Sunflower Fair in September.
Brett Binversie, La Porte Events and Civic director, works closely with his counterparts in Michigan City and the La Porte County Fair Grounds to make sure that large area events aren't being held on the same weekend.
“We aren't cannibalizing each other for attention or crowds. That way we are maximizing our money and our community's attention," Binversie said.
The steady growth in the area has led to new and exciting events like the Friday Night Live events. The monthly events, which began last year and each have their own unique theme, give attendees a chance to hear some live music and check out the area.
“It's a great opportunity for people to get out and enjoy the area we call La Stitch. It’s really a great way to see the downtown area," Binversie said.
This year, Binversie is looking to expand on some of the existing events that are well attended and loved by the community, like the La Porte Farmer's Market. The expansion is planned to include more vendors for the weekly event and offer more entertainment.
“I am trying to get some food trucks involved and we are always going to have some live music. We want people to enjoy themselves and we are hoping to double our number of vendors by the end of the year," Binversie said.
Binversie works to highlight local small businesses during the events through sponsorships and giving them the chance to be part of all of the local events.
“We definitely want to utilize our downtown more. There are a lot of great restaurants and bars that will be opening over the next 12-18 months. The team at LEAP and Mayor Dermody have done a great job bringing in businesses and we feel like there has been growth in our community," Binversie said.
Events that Binversie is looking forward to this year include some of the Friday Night Live theme nights like Taco Fest in July, Cheeseburger in Paradise in August, and Sunflower Fest in September.
For more information on the businesses in Downtown La Porte or to check out the calendar of events, visit www.cityoflaporte.com.