VALPARAISO — A room full of city officials, business owners and others from Portage was not enough Tuesday night to derail final approval of a $30 million loan to renovate several county-owned facilities and repair three of the county's worst bridges.
Many in the crowd, including Portage Mayor James Snyder and several members of the City Council, had hoped to convince county officials to reconsider plans to spend $10 million of the loan to renovate the existing North County Complex on south Willowcreek Road in Portage.
City officials would prefer to see a combined city and county building constructed in the downtown area.
County Councilman Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, who represents the wider Portage area, said while he rallied for last-minute consideration of the downtown proposal, he joined the unanimous vote in favor of the renovation plan so as not to derail a good thing for the city.
The county is investing $10 million in the city with the renovation of the existing building, in addition to millions more in the city and Portage Township for drainage improvement work, he said.
"This is a good thing for Portage," Rivas said. "This is a good thing for Portage Township."
Plans for the $30 million loan also include an addition to the county administration center in Valparaiso, and renovation work at the courthouse, administration center and Expo buildings in Valparaiso.
Councilman Dan Whitten, D-at-large, said the plan may not be exactly what he would have chosen, but he also was not going to stand in the way after all the planning that went into it.
"I share your vision," he told the city officials and residents seated before him. "But it's simply not something that's going to happen. We have to appreciate those things that are going to happen."
While the crowd remained silent when the final vote was taken in favor of the loan, city officials had plenty to say outside the meeting room.
"This is wrong. This is a travesty," said Portage City Councilman Mark Oprisko, D-at-large.
Oprisko, who is holding out hope that county officials will yet take a closer look at the downtown proposal, said he was never given the chance to have a lengthy conversation about the alternative.
Snyder said he came to the meeting to suggest that the county and city host a public meeting to discuss both proposals.
"It's $10 million," he said. "It's a lot of money."
City Councilwoman Sue Lynch, D-at large, said she wishes the county would have had a city official at the planning table early in the process, but that did not happen.
"We're a strong city," she said. "We have to accept it and move on."