VALPARAISO | Whether he's looking back at the past year or ahead to the next one, Mayor Jon Costas sees plenty of things to be optimistic about.
"One of the most visible projects completed last year was the overpass at Ind. 49 and Vale Park Road and the associated roundabout," Costas said. "They certainly helped traffic in that area and have been well-received by the citizens. The overpass created a much safer ingress to the city and a beautiful entryway."
The city will be following that up this year with the design of improvements along the U.S. 30 corridor within the city. The project will involve traffic improvements to major intersections, a pedestrian bridge, streetscape work, landscaping and other projects to improve the visual appearance of the corridor. The city will pay for it with state and federal funds as well as grants.
"I think that will create the same sort of pride in the city in the sense that U.S. 30 will better reflect the quality of the city and our values when it is all done," Costas said.
Expanding the downtown Central Park Plaza will be another major focus of the coming year or two. The design of an open air pavilion, which will allow holding events in almost all weather as well as possibly providing an ice rink, will be completed soon and fundraising will begin in earnest for construction as early as next year.
"It is my desire to build it as soon as possible," he said. "We don't have the funding yet, but we will be working hard to make that possible."
Costas said the past year saw the completion of several smaller road projects that enhanced intersections and traffic flow, especially in the downtown, and the Eastgate corridor continues to redevelop with projects like University Promenade, which will provide a first-class entrance into Valparaiso University.
Costas praised VU for development of the welcome center and said he looks forward to the redevelopment of the former Porter hospital site by VU. With the departure of Urschel Laboratories, he said the city will work with the company on redeveloping that site as well.
A big issue to be tackled this year will be deciding whether the city will continue to depend on wells for its water supply or switch to Lake Michigan water. A study for the city's Utilities Board looked at all the alternatives and the costs, and now it will be up to the board and the administration to choose the best option.
And speaking of the future, the two-year process of developing a new strategic plan for the coming decades will begin this summer and involve as many people in the city as possible to find out what they want the city to look like in the coming years.
"We are seeing some good signs (that the economy is improving), but we'd like to see more success in being able to develop shovel-ready building sites and maybe some buildings," he said. "I'm bullish about the future of the city where things are healthy compared to other areas.
"I'm an unabashed optimist. Every year is a good one, and the next one will be even better."