Chesterton Tribune



Mark Hopkins sees Coffee Creek Park as Downtown diamond in the rough

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Mark Hopkins, owner of Hopkins Ace Hardware, has a vision for Coffee Creek Park.

Arguably the most underutilized park in the town’s inventory, Coffee Creek Park is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year overgrown with brush, choked by invasive species and dead or downed trees, whose pond is rarely fished because it’s shallow and ringed by scrub, whose playground is rarely used.

As Hopkins told the Chesterton Park Board at its meeting Tuesday night, Coffee Creek Park feels more like a hinterland than an actual park.

It floods from time to time, it’s been ravaged by beaver, and unless you know it’s there--tucked as it is behind the business block on South Calumet Road--you have no idea it’s there. “It’s wet and it’s hard to maintain,” he said. “I get that.”

Hopkins, with the blessings of the Park Board and assisted by community volunteers, led two assaults last year on the brush, the invasives, the litter, the dead fall. Vast quantities of debris were removed from Coffee Creek Park, and it looks better than it did, yet Hopkins isn’t content. Merely sprucing up Coffee Creek Park is unlikely to make it a destination. Hopkins wants the Park Board, and the Town Council, and the Redevelopment Commission, altogether to re-imagine it.

For Hopkins’ money--and last night he donated $3,079 to the Park Gift Fund, so he’s a guy who puts his money where his mouth is--the key to Coffee Creek Park is its proximity to the Downtown. For all practical purposes, it is in the Downtown. Easy enough to access, if you know where to look: the alley immediately north of the old town hall, now Coffee Creek Studio, on South Calumet Road. A little harder to access, if you’re willing to take a bit of a walk: down the hill from East Indiana Ave. to Lois Lane.

But once you’re there, the amenities are truly worth exploring: Coffee Creek itself, home in season to spawning trout and the occasional river otter; a fine place to bird in the spring; a sledding hill in the winter; a pond to fish, if you don’t mind dealing with the scrub; a scenic boardwalk and viewing platform; a large deck with picnic tables for lunch. All these things are there now. Hopkins, however, is thinking bigger.

“There’s a ton of room for improvement,” he urged the Park Board. “It’s has so much potential and it could add so much to the Downtown.”

Begin with the slope down into Coffee Creek Park from Lois Lane parking lot: Hopkins suggests turfing it, laying old flat stones for enhanced seating, and constructing three gently staired paths leading down the slope and into the park (thereby eliminating the need for the ricketly stepped railroad ties which have been there forever).

Hopkins also envisions an amphiteater built into the hill at the north end of Coffee Creek Park, just west of the sledding hill and south of the Norfolk Southern tracks, for musical performances and other entertainment.

And--thinking really big--Hopkins sees enhanced connectivity from the Downtown. Not just via the alley, which could be revamped, landscaped, painted, and signed. But also via a wide pedestrian walkway where attorney Greg Bacock currently has his law offices.

According to an artist’s rendition, the top half of 111 S. Calumet Road could be removed and a wooden walk- and stairway built leading to Lois Lane, while the bottom half of the building could be renovated and outfitted with restrooms.

(Associate Town Attorney Connor Nolan wondered, “I don’t know if anyone has talked to Greg Babcock about taking half his building.” Replied Hopkins, “I did. That’s the first thing I did.”)

As Hopkins noted, Thomas Centennial Park is a wonderful venue, but its capacity for community events is limited and those events typically require the closing of Broadway. Coffee Creek Park could become the Downtown’s annex, even its anchor, and a “multi-function” destination in its own right, for ice skating, weddings, festivals. “Lois Lane could be a real communal space,” he said. “We could see revenues for retailers at the back of the business block as great as for those at the front. It just makes sense to make it part of the Downtown. I truly believe this would put the Downtown on steriods.”

To Hopkins’ mind, too many Chesterton residents appear to avoid the Downtown and he’s not sure why. Revitalizing Coffee Creek Park might well give them a reason to visit, or visit again. “I’m surprised how many people live here and never come Downtown,” Hopkins pondered. “Why don’t they come Downtown and hang out with us?”

Naturally Hopkins didn’t, couldn’t, ignore the elephant of the room. “This looks really expensive,” he conceded. “But I’ve been talking to a landscape architect who’s done a lot of these. We can get it done for way less. We can get a lot of free labor. I’m offering to pay for labor.”

Still, he said, there are potential sources of funding: Hopkins Ace roundups; grants (Hopkins has already reached out to the Chesterton/Porter Rotary Club about one); revenues from the park impact fee; crowdfunding (along the lines of the campaign which raised some $70,000 for the boxcar restroom in Thomas Centennial Park); and conceivably tax increment financing moneys.

The Park Board, for its part, liked what it heard. “You’ve done a lot of work,” Member Paul Shinn said. “Your group did a fantastic job.”

Added Member Mark Dickinson, “I think it’s vital to get the Downtown going in the right direction. But you need to get buy-in from the businesses.”

Attorney Nolan suggested that Hopkins’ next step should be to schedule a presentation on the fourth Monday of the month, so as to brief both the Revelopment Commission and the Town Council on his proposals.

Hopkins, for his part, promised to have some ballpark cost estimates to share with the Park Board at its next meeting.


Posted 7/9/2020




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