Would bringing back the Porter 4th of July midnight parade as a
family-friendly event be the kind of unique attraction that brands the town
as a great place to live and visit?
That was one suggestion heard Wednesday as community volunteers sought input
on how to make Porter a destination focus for bringing one’s family --- and
raising one’s family, too.
About 20 persons engaged in a free-wheeling exchange of observations and
ideas at the invitation of the town’s Branding Leadership Team. Working with
Porter County Tourism, the tag line Front Porch to the Dunes is being used
with an Adirondak chair logo to convey a welcoming Porter experience awaits.
Of nine Porter County cities and towns participating, Porter was chosen to
use the family-focus/recreation brand because of the strength of its
Hawthorne Park, considered a jewel in the community, and because of the
proximity of an historic downtown that just might have the most
restaurants/bars per capita around.
Possible Hawthorne offerings such as a splash pool/skating rink, outdoor
performance area for children’s theater and a Frisbee golf course would make
a good thing even better for residents and tourists alike, according to
Porter County Tourism executive director Lorelei Weimer.
She estimated if just 5 percent of the day visitors to the Indiana Dunes
State Park stay at least two nights locally, that would result in a $20
million injection of revenue to businesses annually.
To that end Porter is spearheading the $30 million Gateway to the Indiana
Dunes project that would transform the Indiana 49/U.S. 20 corridors north of
Interstate 94 to attract tourists, create jobs for area residents and
diversify the town tax base.
Business development is what Porter needs, said town director of engineering
With large tracts of land previously taken by the Indiana Dunes National
Lakeshore, he explained, the opportunity for Porter to develop with a
typical industrial/commercial base and generate more town revenue was lost.
That’s why Porter’s property tax rate is one of the highest around because
it’s mainly supported by residential uses, said Keiser.
But what Porter does have, said speakers, is Lake Michigan and two
state/federal parks that draw 3 million combined visitors a year, so why not
make the most of it?
Branding Team member Bill Sexton said the same Hawthorne Park amenities and
the nearby Little Calumet River and woods that provided a source of fun and
discovery for him as a child growing up in Porter can offer even more varied
experiences for future generations.
“The park has been a part of me and other people in this community.
Hawthorne Park --- Porter Park --- this is where they end up,” he told the
Resident Elka Nelson suggested adding movies, concerts and storytelling as
park activities, and Heather Augustyn said chess is popular with youngsters
so paint chess boards on the concrete for play. Zathoe Sexton said local
service organizations could sponsor a hometown picnic, while Park
Board/Branding Team member Patty Raffin said rotating restaurant vendors
could offer their selections at Hawthorne throughout the summer.
The Chesterton Art Fair has been located in Porter for years, said Weimer
and Sexton, so why not start a tradition of its own by having groups sponsor
real Adirondak chairs creatively decorated with individual themes and
displayed throughout the town similar to the popular Chicago cow art
Initially Porter’s July 4 midnight parade with few marchers grabbed
headlines for its uniqueness, but as its popularity grew so did its
problems, ending with thousands crammed into the downtown and many refusing
to leave even after the bars had closed causing trouble for residents.
No one has come forward to resurrect the parade, but Keiser speculated it
could be brought back with some tight restrictions so former excesses don’t
repeat themselves. Sexton offered to help a sponsor in that effort, and
resident Karen Pisowicz said, “I’d love to see it back.”
Porter has its own downtown master plan in the works, and Weimer said
wayfinding signage, more sidewalks, historic markers and the potential for
connectivity with the South Shore train station can make a good thing
Porter’s already-vibrant night life at the downtown’s restaurants and bars
was noted, but resident Bill Cantrell said they need to be made handicapped
accessible and suggested offering grants for retrofits like Porter town
government and the Chesterton/Duneland Chamber of Commerce are offering for
Branding Team member Porter resident Heather Ennis, also the Chamber
executive director, reminded that the team is a non-political group with no
revenue stream of its own but would gladly facilitate contacts and ideas.
The potential synergy of adding family-oriented daytime businesses in
Porter’s downtown to supplement the more-adult evening uses was raised.
Keiser said the downtown, primarily along Lincoln Street, is hemmed in by
railroads to its south and parking is at capacity now but infill lots do
While Keiser initially said moving businesses into Franklin Street north of
Lincoln would not be a good fit for Porter, an audience member described the
success of old town Glendale, AZ where a special district was created for
historic cottages there blending residential with small-scale tourist retail