The potential of Downtown La Porte is the city’s greatest asset, according to Thaddeus Cutler, the new downtown coordinator.
“We have some of the most diverse and creative people downtown to go along with some great businesses,” he said. “I’ve witnessed an increase of things happening in La Porte in terms of people coming here and making sure the area is moving in a very good direction.”
That direction will continue to be one of moving forward, said Cutler, who has set lofty goals for the area since he began working in his new position on March 3.
Cutler, a born and raised LaPortean and owner of Thaddeus C. Gallery on Lincolnway, says he would like to see Downtown become an official Mainstreet Association downtown and have a committee that oversees things such as increasing involvement from local business owners and residents of the city.
“It takes a community to develop a community,” he said. “I would like to see the area as a place that is operated on its own.”
The artist in Cutler also wants to see more signage, directing visitors and La Porte County residents too, to the areas with the most life.
He spoke on that idea and others too at the weekly meeting of the Rotary Club of La Porte on March 10 at the Best Western on Pine Lake Avenue.
Cutler told the Rotary crowd the area is not “a blank canvas,” as he had once thought. It is more of “a cradled panel.”
“The people that own businesses downtown, the people that own buildings downtown, the people that live downtown, the people that work downtown, the people that support our downtown shops and services, and even the people that drive through our downtown form the cradling on our panel,” he explained.
Cutler later said it is sometimes difficult to describe the downtown area, so he used an art analogy as the best way to do that.
The Downtown Coordinator position in La Porte is fairly new, with Cutler’s predecessor, Tiffany Bley, being the first one. But as far as Bley took the area during her time there, Cutler seems to be the perfect fit due to his background in the community and love for all things La Porte.
Cutler grew up in the town and attended La Porte High School before enrolling in the New York Academy of Art, located in New York City’s eccentric TriBeCa neighborhood.
“Education kind of led me away,” he said. “I started my career in art at Indiana University South Bend, which had an unbelievable art program at the time which was geared at figurative art. I went there and that led me out to New York City to start a graduate program.”
That’s where he met his wife, Laura, who was also from the Midwest (Flint, Michigan). Since the Art Academy in the nation’s largest city featured students from all around the world, Cutler said he and Laura were first attracted to each other when they found out they came from neighboring states in America’s heartland.
During the six years the couple spent in New York, they would visit La Porte often to see Cutler’s family. It was at time time he could first see his hometown “from the eyes of someone not from here.”
“It really gave me a unique perspective to see it from Laura’s eyes,” he said. “It was a strange experience.”
A series of events led the two to La Porte, and Cutler first opened his gallery in 2004 before relocating to its current location at the center of the town three years later.
It was then when Cutler and his wife first came up with the idea for “Second Saturdays,” a monthly event geared at encouraging local businesses to offer art, music, food or drinks or something special to attract residents and visitors.
“It was a good way to get people to come Downtown again and it works to this day,” he said. “With my new position, I feel like I am getting the organization of Second Saturdays back.”
The most important part of Cutler’s new responsibilities is the promotion of Downtown La Porte. “That happens through the running of different events like the Sunflower Affair, First Friday movie night and Taste of La Porte,” he said.
He was also need to serve as a liaison between a grant program and business owners to apply for grants to assist the local owners on fixing facades and windows.
“The Greater LaPorte Economic Development Corporation (GLEDC) gets a lot of leads on businesses or people interested in purchasing, so I am also a good contact for them and what they are doing,” he said. “The benefits of having me in this position for them is that I own a business downtown and am aware of what’s going on and what it entails to operate a business in this area.”
Developing specific boundaries for the Downtown area may be Cutler’s biggest challenge, however.
“I have definitely recognized a core that needs to be work on,” he said, “but as new businesses move in and out, it could certainly change.”
The natural distinction of Downtown La Porte, he said, is the Business Improvement District where new sidewalks and planters have been added recently.
“But if that’s the downtown, there are more businesses in all directions that are just a stones throw away,” he said. “It makes no real sense to cut those businesses out.”
The district could be defined at the east end at Lincolnway and Detroit and Perry Street at Louie’s Cafe to the west.
“But right next door you have Roxy Music Shop, which has been a unique staple in La Porte for many years,” Cutler said. “Right next to the east end, you have Hawkins Print Shop and Colima Restaurant and they are literally right there (outside the traditional border).”
As for any specific immediate plans, Cutler said he would like to develop a mission statement that defines “an idea of what Downtown is and means.”
“I know it means many different things to different people, but finding a common thread and going with it is going to be key.”