Chesterton Tribune

Porter gets serious about luring investment to 'Gateway'

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SEH consultant A.J. Monroe told Porter officials Tuesday that ambitious plans to lure up to $65 million in private investment yielding $1.9 million in projected property-tax benefits can happen, but it’s going to take both commitment and time.

The town Redevelopment Commission scheduled a special 5 p.m. Jan.11 meeting to go over in detail an updated Gateway to the Dunes plan distributed last night; president Bruce Snyder said at the Jan. 11 meeting’s conclusion he will call for its adoption.

The Gateway study then would be presented to the town Plan Commission for incorporation into Porter’s long-range comprehensive plan, a process taking at least two months to deal with zoning changes.

Monroe said a parallel track will see Porter making a request next month of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority for additional funds; the RDA earlier provided $1.8 million for initial Gateway studies and highway bridge amenities.

New RDA money would fund construction of the proposed Dunes Kankakee Trail between U.S. 12 and U.S. 20 as well as a $3 million extention of public infrastructure to make key Gateway areas more developer-friendly.

By upgrading both the experience and the access for 3 million tourists who visit the state and federal parks at Porter’s doorstep, the result can be increased jobs and connectivity, an enhanced environment, the opportunity for local business growth and stronger neighborhoods.

Those are the goals of the Gateway plan, said consultant Greg Calpino of JJR, an SEH partner on the project.

Forget that boring Indiana 49 name. Doesn’t Dunes Kankakee Parkway sound more inviting?

Other tentative ideas call for the languishing Munson Place light -industrial park, which is adjacent to the Porter County tourism visitor center, to be transformed into quaint shops, restaurants and hotels. The shuttered Splash Down Dunes water park could become a business park with smaller lots for less of an impact on the surrounding area, or even a housing development.

Two opportunities for additional consideration are the historic Indiana Dunes State Park pavilion, which Monroe said has extensive potential, and creating a transit-oriented development (TOD) hub at Indiana 49 and U.S. 12 near the Dune Park South Shore station.

Monroe stressed the new Gateway areas would complement, not compete, with local downtowns and commercial corridors like Indian Boundary Road in Chesterton. In fact, Porter’s project could jump-start their revitalization and enhancement, he said.

Possible plans for Porter’s downtown could include building a connector hike/bike trail along the south side of Lincoln Street displacing the angle parking on that side. Angle parking would be restored on Lincoln’s north side but about 40 spaces would be lost necessitating the need to create pocket parking lots downtown.

Monroe said Porter is a confluence of transportation routes, natural resources and especially trails. The Dunes Kankakee generally will parallel Indiana 49 but towns along its path are encouraged to build trail offshoots into their community.

Monroe said Porter could develop a new Munson Ditch/Dunes Creek greenway corridor as a paved trail with boardwalks over sensitive environmental areas to link the Dunes Kankakee with the town’s planned Orchard Pedestrian Way trail.

On their way into town, tourists would follow the Orchard pedway adjacent to Waverly Road over a revamped Interstate 94 bridge with stylized lighting and railings continuing the Gateway design of new Indiana 49 bridges over U.S. 20, U.S. 12 and the South Shore tracks to the north.

Calpino said Porter needs to brand a visitor’s arrival experience with a consistent theme and to entice them to stay longer. “If we can’t hook those people coming here, they’re going somewhere else and spending money somewhere else.”

Matt Reardon of SEH said with development at a standstill in Porter, it’s up to the town to make things happen and the tourism industry is a “pretty significant sleeping giant.”

It was estimated the three-phase Gateway plan could take up to 15 years to implement, but Monroe said a working group has done its homework. “We talked to the people that need to be talked to. The plan before you is doable, is sustainable,” he told commission members.

Additional elements of the funded Phase 1 Gateway project are an engineering feasiblity study how to modify Indiana 49 from Interstate 94 north into the State Park as a welcoming entrance; an alternative transportation study linked to the TOD concept; and engineering/design plans for the initial Dunes Kankakee Trail leg.

Resident Jennifer Klug asked if the draft Gateway plan, which Snyder described as a working document not in final form, would be available for review by the public. Snyder referred the question to town attorney Patrick Lyp.

He told Klug, “I’ll get back to you to be sure I’m right on my answer.”

After the meeting Lyp was pressed why the draft plan wouldn’t be a disclosable public document. “As I sit here right now I can’t think of any reason why it wouldn’t be available,” he replied, adding that he hoped SEH would post the document on its website.

Posted 12/15/2010