I recently attended Lansing’s 120th birthday celebration that provided a glimpse of the village’s rich and sometimes colorful past. A lot has changed from those early days.
Farming interests gave way to local commerce to commercialized centers accessible by interstate highways. Downtown Ridge Road business grew, then had to compete with new commercial corridors filled with regional and national retailers. Homes built for brick laborers became surrounded by suburban neighborhoods and multi-family housing. The steel industry rose and declined in Northwest Indiana, with an impact felt even today by manufacturers across the Southland.
Time has wrought changes not only to Lansing, but neighboring communities, as well. Those with foresight have already started to transform themselves to meet today’s market demands. South Holland, Homewood, Munster, Crown Point and Valparaiso, to name a few, are all reinventing themselves in order to appeal to the new millennial generation — and their pocketbooks.
Others are just awakening to the need to keep up with changing development patterns. Urbanized suburbs, built in an era when economic circumstances and market demands were different than today, are challenged with outmoded commercial corridors and underutilized or vacant properties. The glut of aging buildings of substandard or obsolete design and their current conditions impact economic potential, and prevent or substantially hinder viable uses — at least in their present capacity.
There is just no overnight method for converting 1940s designs to in-demand “hot” markets — nor an easy way to resolve an accumulation of serious economic and environmental concerns. A big picture view and a systematic approach for addressing obsolete structures built a half century ago are required.
Lansing is up to the challenge. We’re developing a comprehensive economic development strategy and systematically tackling long-standing, stagnant conditions. We’re working alongside retail development professionals scouting new locations, knowing we might have to demolish, adapt and market sites in order to affect change.
This means prioritizing redevelopment projects up and down our main streets. Along Torrence Avenue, we’re using all tools at our disposal, working with property owners, developers, site selectors and investors to increase the market viability of strategic parcels. The goal is to bring in new business, an influx of shoppers and increased employment opportunities for area residents.
It’s why an aggressive facade improvement grant program was launched for the downtown Ridge Road area. Up to $50,000 is available per approved project, as match to property and business owner investment. Not surprisingly, six businesses are already looking to take advantage of this opportunity, and more are scheduled to meet with village staff. The program is off to a strong start, so a revived downtown with new and existing restaurants and boutiques is possible.
Another redevelopment win for the community came with JX Peterbilt, a new commercial vehicle dealership. Expanding their corporate footprint to Lansing late last year, they repurposed a long vacant building. Open less than a month, they are outpacing expected sales and service demand and hiring additional personnel. Next they’re building a second facility where a former derelict structure once stood.
Pairing investment with progress allows us all to be winners. Successful business ventures that revitalize the community don’t occur overnight, but it will happen with strategic commitment and determination.