Once again, it has been a busy fruitful year for the Highland Redevelopment Commission with many accomplishments director Cecile L. Petro says.
This past year’s Redevelopment Commission activities have included the Gateway Project, Façade Improvements Grant Program, the Cultural/Art District, the Town theater renovation and the Highland Main Street project, Petro says.
“I would like to thank the number of wonderful volunteers who sit on the Redevelopment Commission and on Highland Main Street,” Petro says. “Without them, very few of these projects could be undertaken. I am so pleased to be able to work with the finest people in Highland.”
The Redevelopment Commissioners are: President Greg Kuzmar; Vice President Dominic Noce; Secretary Bridget DeYoung; and members Heather Peterson and James Kessler. The School Town of Highland appointee, a non-voting member is Pat Krull and the Town Council Liaison is Dan Vassar.
Kuzmar says Highland’s Redevelopment Commission is fortunate to have a group that is quite selfless and has committed a lot of their own time.
“You need to have a special kind of mindset to be a good redevelopment commissioner as opposed to many other boards and commissions that function within a town,” Kuzmar says. “With redevelopment you have to be so much more proactive than reactive. What goes along with that is you need to have people who are visionaries, who can go out take a look at other communities in their travels, see what is working well around the state and around the country and always be looking to set the bar higher locally and not to be afraid to say that we can do better and we can aspire to a higher standard and have the initiative to go ahead and not only identify those areas of concern but strategize and figure out how we are going to go about tackling that and then actually have the determination to go forth and put those plans in into action. We are fortunate to have a group that always comes to our meetings engaged and attentive and responsive.”
The Redevelopment Commission office is located at 3333 Ridge Road and can be reached at (219) 972-7598.
Soon the community will see a new gateway welcome sign at North Indianapolis Boulevard on the east side south of 81st street. It will be north of the grove of trees that were planted last year. It is being constructed at this time.
Façade Improvement Grant Program
The Commission has assisted five property owners with improving their facades in the downtown. Over $300,000 has been spent in improvements by the owners and the Commission has reimbursed them with 30% or $90,000.00. The buildings include Traditions Restaurant, APEX Construction and Cakes by Karen. Another building’s façade is undergoing improvement in the downtown now and at least two more projects should be completed by the end of the year.
Redevelopment and Assembling of Property
The Redevelopment Commission, with Town Council approval, bonded for $2,000,000 to purchase property and begin the process of assembling for redevelopment. The properties are on the Commission’s Acquisition List which allows the Commission to enter into agreements and contracts with property owners. The Commission is beginning the process of purchasing properties now. Ultimately, it hopes to assemble enough property that it can interest a developer to redevelopment a much larger area than one or two parcels. Redevelopment Commissions operate best when the private sector cannot or will not redevelop properties on its own for a number of reasons, usually because of the cost involved.
The Highland Redevelopment Commission was awarded one of the first “Creating Livable Communities” grants offered by the Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission. The $30,000 planning grant will provide 3D renderings, cross sections, site plans, and a five-year plan to develop a cultural/art district along Kennedy Avenue to improve the aesthetics of the area, create businesses, and employ residents. Through urban infill, adaptive reuse, and innovative design, the Town hopes to transform the area into a vibrant center for its residents and visitors and allow them to access the area through all modes of transportation.
Over the past two years, the Commission has assessed the various systems within the theater through volunteer assistance and hired an architectural firm to provide guidance on the feasibility of retaining the building as a theater and possibly providing other small venues within the building. The Commission, through its Highland Main Street Committee, has also developed goals and outlined the costs to operate the theater. A theater consultant has been contacted to review those items and provide information on whether or not the theater can be sustained in today’s market. A July public forum is being planned to provide the residents and others interested in the theater with information on the building and its proposed operations. The theater is located within the Cultural/Art District.
Highland Main Street (HMS)
HMS was formed only a couple of years ago; however, the volunteers have accomplished a great deal in those few years.
“Although the Redevelopment Director assists the volunteers with many of their projects, volunteers are the backbone of the organization,” Petro says.
The President of HMS is Bridget DeYoung, who is also a Redevelopment Commissioner. The Festival of the Trail committee co-chairpersons are Jessica Brown and Ula Davitt with committee members Dawn Diamantopoulos, Jillian Van Volkenburgh, Carol Kutcka, Mario DeGeorge, Tracy Oprea, Kim Grasch and Kathy Sudac. The car cruise chairman is Mario DeGeorge with members Mike Vane, Lee Kause, John Golfis and event volunteers Tracy Oprea, Kim Grasch, Darlene Barron, Bridget DeYoung and Carole Kutcka. The Art Display committee members are Joanna Smith and Dawn Diamantopoulos. The Holiday Decorating committee members are Shirley and Tom Frankiewicz and the Highland Rookery committee members are Darlene Barron and Carole Kutcka.
On May 31, 2014, HMS conducted its first Car Cruise which was very successful in the downtown. Highway Avenue was closed to traffic and over 230 cruise cars participated in the day’s event. Downtown restaurants and retail stores were encouraged to stay open and benefit from the event. The purpose of Main Street is to improve the downtown through business retention and attraction efforts and by improving the foot traffic to those businesses.
The Spring Art Display in the downtown business windows featured self-portraits by elementary Highland students and by Girls on the Run participants. A Fall Art Display is being planned.
During the holidays last year, HMS was able to secure enough contributions from local businesses and the Town Council to purchase six silhouette trees that were located in the downtown during the holidays.
Musicians will once again play at the Farmers’ Market on Saturdays beginning June 7th through October, thanks to the HMS program
HMS volunteers partnered with the Highland Community Foundation and received a total project grant of $12,479 from Legacy Foundation with a contribution from the Highland Community Foundation. The grant will improve the Highland Rookery area with benches, binoculars, signage, and brochures to inform the public about the wonderful birds and plants at that location.
Lastly, HMS is planning another “Festival of the Trail” on October 11, 2014 in the municipal parking lot on the southwest corner of Highway and Kennedy Avenues. Last year was the first festival and HMS hopes to improve on the number of vendors and participants this year. The Festival will focus on the arts and physical fitness/health. Plans are underway to include at least one town along the trail this year and more in subsequent years. The vision for the Festival is to ultimately include every town and city on the trail on the same day.