LAPORTE | The city of LaPorte is offering several months of free rent to combat a growing number of empty storefronts in the downtown area.
The city's urban enterprize association is offering grants to entice small businesses to locate in the downtown, which in recent years has lost mainstays like LaPorte Sporting Goods, Kessler's Furniture and Michael's Home Furnishings.
Downtown Director Tiffany Bley said grant applications will be awarded to new businesses that offer something viewed as needed or lacking in the downtown, such as a bakery.
New business owners must also show they are ready for success by presenting things like a solid business plan.
"It's really innovative. It's wonderful," said Bley.
Bley said up to $5,000 for the first several months of rent will be awarded to each selected new businesses that choose to lease one of the now empty downtown buildings.
She said resources that would otherwise go toward the first several months of rent can be used to get the business going and on solid financial ground to help in securing long term success.
"It's nice not to have to worry about the rent for the first six months," said Bley.
Like many downtowns, LaPorte's central business district has declined since consumers starting in the 1970s began leaving for large shopping malls and other major retail developments in Michigan City, Valparaiso, Hobart and Mishawaka.
The city has tried combating the problem, which seems to have worsened since the economic downturn in 2008, with other incentives.
Mayor Blair Milo said it's a problem being attacked with other incentives like grants to help pay for building and facade improvements.
"I think this grant program is yet another unique idea brought forward and I know they're already looking for the community to provide some feedback on the next great big idea for the city," said Milo.
A small business summit is also scheduled March 20 to explain to prospective business owners the process for opening a small business in the downtown.
Tours will also be given of of the empty buildings to showcase what's currently available.
"There are several ways to navigate as far as starting a business and it's nice to just be up front about it and say this is how we do things and we want you to be here and do business with us," said Bley.
For more information, contact Bley at (219) 362-3178 or City Planner Mary Jane Thomas at (219) 362-8260.