HAMMOND — In its third and final presentation on Hammond's downtown master plan, the Urban Land Institute (ULI) encouraged the city to be bold and engage the community as it aims to makeover downtown.
The city first unveiled its master plan for downtown Hammond in 2019, and since then a lot has changed, said Christopher Kurz, chair of the Hammond advisory panel.
The panel sought to assess the city's buildings and how to best repurpose them, evaluate "the city financial toolbox," and how to leverage resources and spread finances among projects, as well as develop a plan to attract retail on first floor and vacant spaces, Kurz said.
Kurz said the city's current downtown master plan is "very good," but the panel hopes to take the plan from "good to wow."
"The old adage, 'location, location, location' is passe, and 'experience, experience, experience' has taken its place. In 1990, decisions about work, shopping, playing and living all revolved around choosing a location where these things happen. Build it and they will come," Kurz said.
"Today, these things can happen anywhere and you, the consumer, can choose where to place yourself to work, play, eat, sleep and be entertained."
When it comes to Hammond, Kurz said while the city has finished planning when it comes to physical space, "it's now time to create the experiences through programming and tailor the physical space to the programs to optimize the experience."
Kurz noted downtown already is filled with great places, including the Hammond Academy of Science and Technology; art venues; Franciscan Health hospital in Hammond; the federal courthouse; and Towle Theater.
And while new development is in the works, the key is to draw people downtown, Kurz noted.
"Much is planned. The rail spur. The downtown train station. New residential development," Kurz said. "But no amount of downtown Hammond development will create enough of a market to sustain a vibrant downtown."
The goal is simple, Kurz later added, "Feets on the streets, the more, the better."
Panelist Juanita Hardy said the city's master plan already features components of a "healthy, thriving community," including access to food and housing, as well as arts and culture.
To create the "wow factor," Hardy suggested the city leverage art and culture through creative placemaking, which can be achieved through artist-engaged design, community engagement and comprehensive communications.
The Art Alley, which connects Sibley and Fayette streets and is part of Hammond's downtown master plan, will contribute to the vibrancy of downtown.
"It'll attract visitors for its atmosphere. This was something that came through the interview, that just putting residential housing, retail downtown won't be enough. There needs to be atmosphere," Hardy said. "The Art Alley will contribute to that. It'll showcase Hammond's great creative community, and it will also provide needed studio space for artists."
Hardy added artists and the community should be involved with the plans and designs featured in the master plan.
Panelist Tom Murphy encouraged the city to move nimbly when it comes to financing the ambitious downtown makeover, and consider forging partnerships to help fund the project.
"One of the things we heard throughout the whole conversations that we've had is that, 'When the train comes.' No, that's the wrong answer. What we've laid out for you, you can do in the next 10 years, before the train comes," Murphy said.
To view the plan, visit gohammond.com/downtown.