Attracting businesses and jobs to commercial areas and vacant properties through the use of tax abatement are just one success story told by local economic development commissions.
Cities and towns, such as Portage and Highland, also help retain businesses by encouraging residents to shop local, officials said.
Portage’s Economic Development adviser John Shepherd said the city’s redevelopment efforts are funded through the Redevelopment Commission.
Shepherd said vacant Portage businesses have not been a major problem.
“I'd attribute this to the long-term focus on commercial image and identity renewal and public and private reinvestment,” Shepherd said. “Ultimately though, it is our residents' dedication to dining and shopping locally that supports small business.”
Shepherd said Phase III of the Central Avenue Business District revitalization program is just beginning. Improvements include street, alley, parking, lighting, walkway and landscaping improvements at Portage Mall, Shepherd said. A facade improvement grant program will be available to business property owners toward the completion of the public works elements, he said.
Businesses drawn to Portage last year include Fifth-Third Bank and Walgreen's. This year, Burger King completed a full-site renovation with new facade treatments, Shepherd said. First Source Bank has a complete facade replacement and site redevelopment project underway.
“It’s looking good,” Shepherd said. “All of these were completed without public assistance. The former Walgreen's in front of Meadow's Shopping Center is currently being renovated for a new tenant, also with private funding.”
Along U.S. 20, the Portage Redevelopment Commission purchased and demolished two 80-year-old motels.
“These properties will be repurposed in accord with the U.S. Highway 20 Corridor Revitalization Program scheduled for completion and public presentation this autumn,” Shepherd said.
Further north, within its Marina District, Portage is completing plans for additional parking, trail and park improvements in the area south of the Portage Lakefront and River Walk. The project involves future demolition of large industrial structures over a period of five years, Shepherd said.
James Fitzer, Executive Director of the Portage Economic Development Corporation, said his organization’s primary focus is industrial development, expanding employment numbers and creating new jobs for the greater Portage area.
“Much of the commercial growth that we are experiencing along our U.S. 6 corridor follows the Industrial expansion occurring in the northern section of our community,” Fitzer said.
Several existing properties and out lots were completed in the last 12 months along this corridor including Panda Express, Texas Roadhouse and the McDonalds’ renovation. Fitzer said Meijers and Family Express are under construction.
Under the leadership of Director Cecile Petro, the Highland Redevelopment Commission has had a successful year in drawing new businesses to the town, some of which have taken over and improved blighted properties, officials there said.
“Right now we have $7 million in tax abatement projects by investment companies coming into Highland or by expansion of current businesses,” Petro said.
Those projects include the Volkswagen of Highland on Indianapolis Boulevard, which is set to open this month; Culver’s Restaurant; and the Strack & Van Til headquarters on 45th Street. Circle Buick GMC moved to Highland from Schererville, and Bell Parts Supply renovated and expanded its building, Petro said.
“Our tax abatements are usually given for areas that are tired or may end up in blight,” Petro said. “We want to make sure those areas are turned around.”
Culver’s is located on the site of an old blighted gas station on Ridge Road, which sat dormant for many years. And the Volkswagen site on Indianapolis Boulevard had the potential for blight, Petro said.
“We have several that may come into town but have not signed on the dotted line yet,” Petro said. “We are working with Aetna Development on the northwest corner of Indianapolis Boulevard and Main Street. They are proposing three retail units in the planned unit development. One of the possibilities is Gordon Foods. The others have not been named.”
About $250,000 was spent last year on façade improvements in downtown Highland as a result of an ongoing program, and Petro is hoping more will be spent this year.
The Town Theater and the parking lot across the street were purchased by the Redevelopment Commission.
“Right now the commission wants to retain it as a theater if possible,” Petro said. “We are interviewing architects for the Town Theatre to provide us with a scope of work and a total cost of a renovation. Once that is completed, the Redevelopment Commission will decide a course of action.”
A big focus for the Highland Redevelopment Commission is reviving the downtown and assisting businesses located there to thrive, Petro said.