What was once an empty, condemned furniture store on a La Porte street corner has since developed into a bustling, centrally located outdoor plaza full of life. After a total of five years of the La Porte community working together to brainstorm, plan, fund, and build the space, Plaza 618 is open to the public and ready for summer use.
The Greater La Porte Chamber of Commerce hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 30 at the Plaza to celebrate its completion. Afterward, attendees were invited to sign the ribbon as a commemoration of the event.
The spacious plaza, located at 618 Lincolnway, offers tables for outdoor dining, benches for relaxing and basking in the sunlight, a charging station for electric cars, and a fountain for kids and families to splash and play in, with more to come.
“The concept was always to create a place in the downtown where people could spend time,” said La Porte Mayor Blair Milo. “We have so many great aspects and a variety of businesses, especially with the farmers market going now, but there hasn’t really been a good place for people to actually spend some time.”
Funding for Plaza 618 came from the generosity of many local businesses and corporate sponsors alike. The project received grants from the Indiana Office of Tourism Development (IOTD) and Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA), as well as funding from the La Porte Urban Enterprise Association and the La Porte Hospital.
La Porte Hospital’s CEO Ashley Dickinson shared the importance of the hospital supporting this endeavor, saying, “We know that healthy communities include walkable spaces so community members can have access to open air spaces that encourage them to be outdoors and active. Plaza 618 by La Porte Hospital is a good example of our community’s collaborative efforts to foster healthy behaviors that also contribute to economic viability.”
In addition, La Porte has many of its own residents to thank for their generous individual donations. In 2015, the La Porte Economic Advancement Foundation announced a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for the plaza.
Through this GoFundMe campaign, citizens of La Porte and its surrounding areas were given the opportunity to contribute to the creation of the plaza in exchange for a lasting legacy in the town. Donations were met with different awards of named bricks, benches, and plaques, depending on the size of the donation.
Bert Cook, Executive Director of the Greater La Porte Economic Development Corporation, shared, “Almost $300,000 was raised in a really tight window over the course of six months, so we really appreciate all of those businesses and people who got our their checkbooks, because that’s what it’s all about. The financial support of creating this is important, but the more important component is that people buy in, and this becomes everyone’s space, and if it’s everyone’s space, then people will use it the way it was intended.”
Many families have already made use of this plaza, and the overall atmosphere of the entire downtown area has changed since its completion. With warmer temperatures on the horizon, Plaza 618 is bound to be full of activity throughout the summer, as well as in the years to come.
“It’s exciting because we saw the whole community come together for it, and you’re really seeing a lot of different parts of the community using it,” said Drew Gesse, Director of Marketing and Communications for the Greater La Porte Chamber of Commerce. “There are a lot of kids already using the splash pad, so that’s exciting to see them out having fun downtown, because I feel like you don’t get to see younger kids out here that often.”
In addition to the amenities that the plaza already offers, brainstorming is underway for more features, including event ideas and pieces of artwork, such as a possible mural on the wall next to the plaza.
“This isn’t the end. As people begin to use this, and we see what works well and what could work better, we’ll adjust,” Cook said. “Ultimately, it all results in drawing more people into our downtown to support our businesses, to increase the quality of life, and to just help people love their community, which is what we’re hoping for.”
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