Chesterton Tribune



Town Council agrees to seek Indiana Main Street designation for Downtown

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The Chesterton Town Council is looking to obtain Indiana Main Street designation for the Downtown business district.

Such a designation would make the town eligible for a variety of grants for economic development, planning, “quick impact” fixes and improvements, historic renovation, and blight clearance.

Members voted unanimously at their meeting Monday night to begin the Main Street application process, following a PowerPoint presented by MS4 Operator Jennifer Gadzala, Indiana Dunes Tourism chief Lorelei Weimer, and Duneland Chamber of Commerce President Maura Durham.

In Indiana, the agency responsible for coordinating the Main Street program is the Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA), whose brief is “to provide resources and technical assistance to aid communities in shaping and achieving their vision for economic development,” and to help them “build relevant and economically thriving places where people want to live, grow, work, and play.”

Indiana Main Street’s approach to doing so is fourfold:

*  Economic vitality: Building a diverse economic base and catalyzing smart investment.

*  Design: Creating an inviting, inclusive atmosphere in the downtown as well as historic character and people-centered public places.

*  Promotion: Marketing a downtown’s defining assets and supporting a buy-local atmosphere.

*  Organization: Developing leadership and strong organizational capacity.

At the heart of the Main Street program, however, is “placemaking,” Gadzala told the council, “strengthening the connection between people and their places, supporting people’s health and happiness by having a vital and active downtown.” The Park Department and the Chamber, spearheaded by the Chesterton Branding Leadership Team (CBLT), have already done a great deal in the Downtown in the way of placemaking, Gadzala added: the boxcar restroom and caboose comfort station and associated landscaping of Thomas Centennial Park; the art-wrapped trash cans; the hanging flower planters.

The first steps in the Main Street application process are mostly bureaucratic: the Chamber’s not-for-profit arm, the Duneland Economic Development Company (DEDC), has already agreed to make the CBLT a standing committee of the DEDC, but the CBLT must also obtain its own separate 501(c)(3) not-for-profit status. Meanwhile, the council must provide a letter of support and commitment, which did occasion a bit of discussion at Monday’s meeting.

Member Jim Ton, R-1st, promptly made a motion to provide such a letter and for his own part pledged his “unconditional support of the Main Street program.”

Member Jennifer Fisher, I-5th, however, had some questions. “I’ve had the pleasure to have conversations with Lorelei and Maura,” she said. “I think this is a great presentation. But it’s very undefined as to what we’d be doing in the Downtown. There’d have to be some structure and terms put in place as to how it would function. That’s my only real issue. I trust the CBLT. I just want to make sure we have a structure in place.”

At the moment, Associate Town Attorney Julie Paulson noted, only a letter of commitment is necessary. She indicated, though, that Fisher has a point. “I’m happy to engage in the process,” Paulson said, “putting some parameters in the relationship between the town and the CLBT and the Chamber.”

Weimer also noted that whatever initiatives the CLBT might pursue--should it obtain Main Street designation--would be largely determined by the Chesterton Comprehensive Plan, which is currently being updated. “The CLBT plan and the Comprehensive Plan will fit together very well,” she said. “The Comprehensive Plan will be the driver.”

“There’s been great cooperation between the members of the CLBT and the town so far,” Gadzala added. “And if there are moneys to be spent, there’d have to be approval from the Town Council.”

Fisher was satisfied and voted with her colleagues to approve a letter of commitment. At the end of the meeting, she also took a moment to volunteer her own time to enlist the support of Downtown businesses for the Main Street program.



Posted 11/11/2020




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