PORTAGE | Economic development is a priority for all three candidates competing for mayor of Portage on the May 3 Democratic primary ticket.
"In spite of the greatest recession since the Great Depression, we have still been fortunate to attract business," Mayor Olga Velazquez said about developments such as Graycore, BP, retail and the expansions of PSC Machinery and NMLK.
Velazquez is being opposed on the ticket by Clerk-Treasurer Donna Pappas and businessman John Barlow.
Velazquez said she believes her administration has continued economic development with recent infrastructure improvements including several stormwater projects and road improvements.
"We turned our focus to what's underground, to the infrastructure. When the economy does rebound, we are ready," she said.
Velazquez said she sees interest from outside businesses, such as potential development at the city-owned northside business park, AmeriPlex and downtown.
"The University Center-Portage will spark further development downtown," Velazquez said.
Pappas believes the 32,000-square-foot higher education facility should not be constructed along Central Avenue because it will impede commercial development in the downtown area.
Pappas believes it should be placed in the northside business park to help jump-start development on the north side of the city. She believes a proposed NorthShore Health Care Center should be located on the north side, not downtown.
"The economy has hurt us. With the tax caps, we need to look at commercial and industrial development to grow the tax base, but we have to look at it wisely," Pappas said.
Pappas has problems with granting tax abatements. If a company "comes in, has good-paying jobs and hires Portage residents, you are going to have to assist them."
Barlow, however, said, "I believe in tax abatements. It would bring things into Portage. I would bend over backwards to give them a tax break."
His strategy to bring new businesses would be to make direct contact.
"I'd call them on the phone and talk to them. I'd get a hold of their corporate offices," Barlow said, adding he'd like to attract a J.C. Penny and "another good family restaurant."
Barlow said he isn't pleased the University Center-Portage project is being constructed by Lake County-based contractors. He said he believes such projects, as well as infrastructure projects, should use Portage and Porter County businesses and workers.