Chesterton Tribune


Amtrak and truck route complicate downtown Porter revamp plans

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Revitalizing downtown Porter faces challenges, consultants said Tuesday, because of a truck route that goes through it and because of planned but as-yet unknown upgrades along the Amtrak line just south of downtown.

The latter could pose an additional complication because Lincoln Street, Porter’s main retail row, sits 4 feet into the railroad right-of-way and parking on Lincoln’s south side could be threatened.

“But that’s not to say that might not be negotiable,” said Beth Shrader, a planning and landscape architecture specialist with SEH of Indiana.

Matt Reardon of SEH said Lake County communities like Dyer and Griffith received money from the Canadian National railroad for parking and beautification improvements as well as designation of whistle-free “quiet zones".

Jeffrey Bailey suggested Porter ask for an Amtrak flag stop. Shrader said there are none in the Duneland area.

She recommended Porter be ready with a wish list for Amtrak. Agreed Reardon, “This may be our chance. Otherwise, it’s forever hold our peace.”

Downtown Porter business owner Ken Timm wasn’t hopeful. “In my experience, talking to the railroad is like talking to the wall. It’s like the National Lakeshore.” Reardon said as part of Amtrak’s preliminary studies to receive federal money, the railroad has to seek input from affected communities including Porter.

A long discussion ensued over how to divert trucks away from downtown; several alternate routes have been considered through the years but rejected. Semi-trucks currently use Wagner Road from U.S. 20 south to Lincoln, then east on it making two tight turns, sometimes threatening parked cars and requiring vehicles in other lanes to back up.

Ron Trigg said Lincoln Street is dangerous and unattractive because of the trucks and until the downtown resolves those issues, it won’t attract people.

Waverly Road has been thought the most viable alternative, but it was described as narrow and not having adequate road base. Said Porter Public Works director Brenda Brueckheimer, “It’s going to be a hard route to go, but if it’s planned and engineered properly, it can be done.”

Reardon said Porter has to be cautious that it doesn’t help one area and hurt another by moving the truck route.

He and Shrader laid out three concepts for downtown renewal that would maintain the current core, strengthen the core and even expand it. In six to eight weeks final recommendations and implementation strategies will be revealed.

Current options include revised parking (parallel, 90-degree or additional off-street parking); a possible hike/bike lane on Lincoln; facade, landscaping and signage improvements; better lighting and marketing; and active business recruitment with town incentives.

Careful development of the town-owned Brickyard parcel at Lincoln and Sexton Avenue should not be discounted, said Reardon. Some level of contamination has been found there, but remediation could be tied to the specific use planned.

To what degree Hawthorne Park should become part of an expanded downtown was discussed. While some thought doing so would strengthen the core, others feared over-development of Hawthorne would ruin what makes it desirable now.

In a recent survey of downtown preferences, respondents said they wanted more family-friendly restaurants and retail. Reardon said he’s reached out to developers he’s previously done business with asking what it would take for them to invest in Porter’s downtown.

The town is in the process of creating a riverfront district to obtain additional liquor licenses to jump-start redevelopment of The Spa. Reardon said developers generally ask how the town is willing to help. If not with you, “It will happen to you,” he warned.


Posted 10/25/2012