Portage downtown project could be expanded

2014-06-26T18:18:00Z 2014-06-27T07:39:04Z Portage downtown project could be expandedJoyce Russell joyce.russell@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222 nwitimes.com

PORTAGE | Plans for redevelopment of the city's downtown took a bit of a turn Thursday.

The Redevelopment Commission approved a contract with DLZ of Hammond to provide engineering services for the design of the extension of Main Street west of the Portage Mall and the extension of Lois Street north to Camden Apartments.

The idea isn't new, said Director of Community Development A.J. Monroe, adding the projects were first proposed in 2001.

What is new is the combination of this project with improvements within the Portage Mall.

The mall improvements have been contentious. Plans call for the extension of Vivian Street north and construction and/or renovations to parking lots within the mall. The issue was debated for months, with Mayor James Snyder initially saying he may not support that work unless the mall property owners agree to expanding the Economic Improvement District to pay for the maintenance and upkeep of the area.

The expansion of the EID was put into motion earlier this month by the City Council.

On Thursday, Snyder said he wanted to join the two projects as one. He also said he has met with mall owners and that their goals are to improve access and signs and drive traffic to the area. He said he believes combining the projects will do that.

Snyder also said he is rethinking taking Vivian Street north and constructing a parking lot for use by the Little League. He also suggested alternate funding, Barrett bonds, for the renovations of the mall parking lot.

However, Snyder said he couldn't discuss the bonding further because neither the city attorney nor economic development adviser were present.

Brendan Clancy, Portage Township trustee and owner of Clancy's Pub in the mall, raised some of his concerns about the commission.

"I think the Redevelopment Commission has gone awry," said Clancy, adding he doesn't believe the commission should be using its money for projects, such as a new fire station and rehabilitation of the police station, saying those projects aren't true redevelopment. Those should be finance through general obligation bonds.

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