MICHIGAN CITY | The ongoing effort to revitalize Michigan City is being fought on many fronts, the latest being a renewed effort to reduce hundreds of abandoned buildings.
Mayor Ron Meer said vacant homes and factory buildings in any community do not leave a good impression for prospective new companies. He doesn't expect to eliminate all of the 500 or so empty properties throughout the city but hopes to add to the already noticeable dent.
"Ultimately, what you want is an actual visual impact. Those are the things people who want to invest start looking at," said Meer.
Since taking over as mayor 15 months ago. Meer has stepped up the already aggressive stance on vacant structures established by his predecessor, Chuck Oberlie, whose leadership resulted in dozens of razed properties, especially toward the end of his term.
In January, an ordinance took effect outlining methods to uncover and keep a log of abandoned structures and identify the property owners. Owners who aren't willing to do things such as bring their properties up to code and cut the grass can be fined or have a levy placed on their tax bills for the city's expense of maintaining the grounds.
Some of those dollars also can supplement a $100,000 fund already kept by the city each year for demolition. Meer said since the beginning of the year the city has hired another full-time code enforcement officer whose focus is almost entirely on remedying abandoned properties.
Initially, the goal is to work with owners to try to put the properties back into use or have the buildings sold to a buyer with the financial resources to fix and maintain the structures.
"Ideally, this is what we want — and it does happen," Meer said. "There are some success stories out there."
One of the missions for the city in recent years has been to reverse decline through efforts such as building demolition, more aggressive law enforcement and downtown revitalization.
City Councilman Tim Bietry said the decay began in the 1970s when the downtown was closed off and traffic on Franklin Street to the lakefront was impeded by new construction of the library, police station and city hall. Bietry said progress on the comeback trail is being made but it will take more than just a few years to fully recover.
"We're moving in the right direction but it's a battle. We fell so far behind," Bietry said.