Chesterton Tribune



Mark Hopkins makes Coffee Creek Park presentation to Town Council

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Three weeks ago, Mark Hopkins, owner of Hopkins Ace Hardware, presented to the Chesterton Park Board his vision of Coffee Creek Park, a diamond in the rough in the heart of Downtown Chesterton.

On Monday night, he made the same presentation to the Town Council.

Hopkins prefaced his remarks by saying that his interest in Coffee Creek Park was piqued several years ago, shortly after accepting a seat on the Chesterton Branding Leadership Team. “I drove from George’s Gyros all the way to Hopkins Ace and counted 15 empty commercial spaces,” Hopkins said. “That got me thinking about Lois Lane,” the roadway cum parking lot which fronts Coffee Creek Park behind the South Calumet Road business block. “I’ve watched a lot of businesses come and go. So I got the idea to do something to stop the attrition.”

The kernel of the idea: “reinventing” Coffee Creek Park, to make it an entertainment venue and a destination for Dunelanders and out-of-towners alike. As Hopkins noted, Coffee Creek Park is not short of amenities: a fine network of boardwalk trails, an excellent playground, the scenic overlooks onto Coffee Creek Park. It’s a great place to bird and hike, a nice place to picnic, and “its No. 1 attraction is the creek itself.” But it’s overgrown with something like 20 species of invasive plants, chock full of dead wood and brush, with a shallow pond great for turtling but not fishing. And it’s not the Coffee Creek Park he remembers from his childhood. “There’s no economic advantage of that park for the businesses that exist in the Downtown,” he said. “We know something is really good there. We just can’t see it.”

Hopkins’ idea is to make Coffee Creek Park an integral part of the Downtown. As Hopkins told the Park Board earlier in July, he would like to see an amphitheater built into the hill at the north side of the park, a three-lane extension of the sledding hill, gentle walkways installed from Lois Lane leading into the park, and the buildings backing onto Lois Lane revitalized.

And yet Hopkins’ reimagining of Coffee Creek Park begs a question: “How are we going to know it’s there?” How, that is, accessed as the park is by a pair of entrances probably few Chesterton residents know are there--off Lois Lane and East Morgan Ave.--would folks be tempted to visit the reinvented park?

Hopkins thinks he knows exactly how: first, by means of the alley just north of the old town hall, now Coffee Creek Studio. Paint it, landscape it, sign it, and you’ll have an attractive pedestrian corridor leading right from Thomas Centennial Park to Coffee Creek Park. But Hopkins has another access point in mind as well: the law offices of Greg Babcock. It’s a two-story building, with the top half fronting South Calumet Road and the bottom backing onto Lois Lane. Remove the top half, erect a stairway down from the brand-new roof of the bottom half, then convert the bottom half into a public restroom or commercial space. Voila: there’d be no missing Coffee Creek Park now from the Downtown.

“It sounds big and bold,” Hopkins conceded. “But hang on.” Funding for the reinvention could come from a pot of difference sources. Begin with Chesterton residents themselves, more specifically the customers of Hopkins Ace Hardware, who have already demonstrated their generosity and community-mindedness by raising $3,000 of their own money in a round-up campaign for Coffee Creek Park. “That tells me that my customers are on board. I didn’t have anything to do with giving that money. I just offered them an opportunity for doing so.”

But there are other funding sources: possibly tax increment financing moneys from the Redevelopment Commission, possibly the revenues of the park impact fee paid by the builders of new homes; possibly grants.

Hopkins did assure the council that the project could be done for much less than anyone would think. “I need an excavator and a body to run it,” he said. “Other than that i can do it for half of the price, if I’m allowed to do it.”

Hopkins gave members a lot to chew on, but their initial responses were positive. “Great presentation,” remarked Member Lloyd Kittredge, R-2nd. “Thank you.”

“I am extremely impressed,” agreed Member Jennifer Fisher, I-1. “You are a man who carries a lot of vision, and you motivate and inspire people. You are a man who can bring forth change. You sometimes undersell yourself. You are a big-vision person who can do anything you set your mind to.”


Posted 7/29/2020





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