Cecile Petro, director of the Highland Redevelopment Commission, said the past year has been one of the best ever for redevelopment and expansion. The Redevelopment Commission has purchased the Town Theater and is in the process of assessing the theater’s condition, need for repairs and best future use. Other highlights of the year are the Pop Up Arts events, Window Art Gallery, and downtown façade improvement, beautification, coupon and Cash Mob programs, which all encourage residents to shop local businesses.
The five members of the commission, appointed by the town council this year are:
President Michael Maloney; Vice President Greg Kuzmar; Secretary Dominic Noce; Bridget DeYoung; and Tom Crowel. The School Town of Highland appointee, a non-voting member, is Patrick Krull. Town Councilman Dan Vassar is the town council liaison on the Redevelopment Commission.
The purpose of Highland’s Redevelopment Commission is to assess the town and put projects programs and plans in place to redevelop the town.
“We are landlocked,” Petro said. “We have no place to grow. We have to take what we have and redevelop it.”
Petro said 2012 was one of the Redevelopment Commission’s best years ever.
“Right now we have seven million in tax abatement projects by companies coming into Highland or by expansion of current businesses,” Petro said.
Those projects include the Volkswagen Dealership on Indianapolis Boulevard, which is set to open in June or July, Culver’s Restaurant which is open, and the Strack & Van Til headquarters on 45th Street. Strack & Van Til is expanding and will have their headquarters there. 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.” Tax abatement can also be given to companies that need to expand and are looking to relocate unless they receive tax abatement or other incentives. The Commission is currently considering a couple of possible tax abatement projects for 2013.
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, 450 lineal feet on Indianapolis Boulevard had the potential for blight, Petro said.
$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., Petro said. The Redevelopment Commission is accepting applications for the program which is only for facades facing the curb.
The Town Theater and the parking lot across the street were purchased by the Redevelopment Commission in September 2012.
“Right now the commission wants to retain it as a theater if possible,” Petro said. “We are assessing the systems in terms of electricity, plumbing, roof, indoor air quality, and hvac (heating and air conditioning) systems,” Petro said. “We are trying to assess what it will take to improve those systems and what the bottom line cost will be.”
Petro said many local businesses have donated their time and materials for the Town Theater assessment. She said Korellis Roofing patched the roof last year and this year, Gluth Construction inspected the roof and will store some items from inside the theater until it is rehabbed, Hyre Electric, Guardian Pest Control, Popa Heating and Cooling, Tiger Plumbing, and skilled tradesman from the Ford Assembly Plant, UAW Local 551 also assisted. One possibility, Petro said, is expanding the stage for small productions to draw more revenue. The Highland Main Street Organization and Professor Dan Dunn have been meeting to set goals and strategies for revitalizing the theater. There has been discussion as to whether to manage or lease out the theater, Petro said.
Another major focus for the Highland Redevelopment Commission through its Highland Main Street program is reviving the downtown and assisting businesses located there to thrive.
“One of the main focuses has been to bring the arts to the downtown,” Petro said. “We have had five pop-up galleries.”
The three goals of the pop-up art events are: one, use vacant property that are for lease or sale for the events to attract tenants and buyers; two, act as networking group for chamber members and business people; three, provide art to the community. Live entertainment has been coupled with the events, as well as, refreshments.
“Four of the five properties used have been leased,” Petro said.
There have been three art display programs in downtown businesses, Petro said, highlighting the works of Highland elementary school students and Ark of Northwest Indiana. Currently the ink and pen “Highland on the Go” art display features the work of 50 Highland middle school students.
The Pop Up Galleries have an art curator Dawn Diamantopoulos; art displays in the downtown businesses are arranged by Joanna Smith; Musicians in the Park, which play during the Highland Farmers’ Market is headed by Jodi Pesich; Window Art Gallery in vacant windows is led by Highland Main Street President Bridget DeYoung. Petro said all are volunteers.
Petro said the town is currently collecting donations for holiday decorations with Shirley Frankiewicz in charge. Letters have been sent letters to all businesses.
Petro said Highland has had one Cash Mob organized by volunteer, Cindy Rivera, at Hoosier Highlander in March with another one planned. Cash Mob participants show up at local businesses with the commitment of spending $20 each, Petro said.
Highland also has a coupon program through which businesses provide coupons for students after athletic, band, orchestra or choir events.
“This encourages people to come downtown and support our restaurants and other businesses,” Petro said. Highland Min Street is also interested in providing access to the downtown from the levee near the Highland Rookery. Volunteer, Darlene Barron, is working on that project. Purdue Calumet's Athletic program will partner with Highland Main Street in providing pennants, athletic event schedules, and banners this summer in preparation for their fall athletic events.
A recently completed beautification project is on North Indianapolis Boulevard between 81st Street and the Ultra Foods Plaza, where a bridge had been removed. Designed by a landscape architect, Petro said 190 trees were planted, including an assortment of ornamental, deciduous and evergreen trees.
“We are hoping to install signage and lights,” Petro said. “That is a major gateway into Highland and we would like to make a nice statement when people enter.”
Petro said no tax dollars were used in the project which was financed by contributions of those businesses who receive tax abatements.
Another function of the Redevelopment Commission, Petro said, is to review all new/rehabbed buildings that are within the two Redevelopment Areas in the town to be sure that they comply with our Architectural Design Standards and Guidelines. Redevelopment Commissioner and architect, Greg Kuzmar, heads our Design Advisory Committee and oversees that function. A recent example includes the building at 9303 Indianapolis Boulevard. We are working with the owner to provide an asset for him and the town. Even if the owner does not apply or receive incentives, they must comply with our design standards. Highland is very concerned about the utilization of quality building materials and adequate landscaping as we move forward. The Committee is also working with the owners of a potential project on the northwest corner of Indianapolis Boulevard and Main Street. This project is within an Economic Development Area and is available for incentives.