VALPARAISO | The redevelopment of the city's downtown and its key commercial corridors continued to progress during 2011, and it looks like that progress will not stop or even slow down this year.
The high point of the past year was the opening of the new downtown Central Park Plaza, providing a new venue for a large number of activities as well as attracting more visitors to the area to shop downtown stores. The park replaced a vacant building that occupied half the block and was expanded to include a portion of a bank parking lot.
It opened Aug. 6 with a weekend of concerts, and its amphitheater, water "sprayground" and greenery have proven to be so popular the city already plans to expand it to the west, again taking over another vacant building. The city expects to spend this year finalizing plans for the expansion and raising money for the project.
"It's made the downtown the center and heart of the city," Mayor Jon Costas said. "We're excited to have plans to expand that now. We want to have events throughout the year, so the purchase of the Worstell building and construction of a pavilion will mean we can hold more outdoor events."
Other 2011 highlights were the construction of more pathways and sidewalks to encourage residents to be more active, completion of a study for the beautification of the U.S. 30 corridor, construction of the second major roundabout and the start of construction on both the new North Coast Distributing headquarters and the St. Mary Medical Center outpatient clinic.
Costas announced a $20 million agreement with the state to begin U.S. 30 beautification, which will help link the corridor to the city in a way that will attract more people to the downtown and give notice that it is part of the city. The construction of the new interchange at Ind. 49 and Vale Park Road is expected to begin soon, and Costas said economic development opportunities should be good.
"We see a lot of interest from companies, and we feel our businesses are doing well," he said. "I'm particularly happy with the economic development effort (Porter County Commission President) John Evans has put together. I think the county has great potential, and I sense more people are working together all over the region.
"I'm really optimistic despite the sluggish economy, and there are great opportunities for young people. I'm looking forward to the expansion of the ChicaGo Dash. We didn't get the TIGER grant (for the downtown transit center), but I think eventually we will get funding for that. The V-Line bus system is growing and providing people with more opportunities to get around in our city."