VALPARAISO — With more of a whimper than a big bang, the house at 603 Indiana Ave. came to the ground Tuesday afternoon.

If all falls in place, the two-story white home, which had been significantly damaged in a fire last year and remained vacant since, will be replaced with a newly constructed custom home.

The effort to redevelop the lot is through the new housing initiatives program of the city's Redevelopment Commission.

Approved last year, RDC Assistant Director Lauren Orchard said, the program's goal is to reduce dangerous housing situations in the city.

RDC member and City Councilman Matt Murphy, R-District 3, brought the idea to the RDC after speaking to the mayor of Whiting about the success of a similar program there.

For some reason, Murphy said, the private sector wasn't coming in and interested in redeveloping this and similar properties. He said there needed to be something to spark the interest of the private sector to invest in neighborhoods in the city.

"We wanted to take the successes of the downtown and spread it out throughout the neighborhoods," Murphy said.

The RDC devoted $400,000 of its budget this year for the program.

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Orchard said a couple originally bought the Indiana Avenue house in the city's College Hill neighborhood to renovate into a bed and breakfast, but when their plans fell through the city approached the owner, ultimately buying the property for $53,000 this past January. The RDC then developed requests for proposals under the program's guidelines and after discussions with the College Hill Association.

Only one proposal came in by the March 28 deadline, Orchard said. That was from Charlson Custom Homes of Valparaiso to build a nearly 2,800-square-foot custom home for a client who had been searching for the right property for some time. The soon-to-be retiring couple live in Minnesota and wanted to relocate to Valparaiso.

The proposal from Charlson calls for the purchase of the lot from the RDC for $60,000, just above its appraisal value of $57,500 and the construction of a home to be valued at over $380,000. Construction would be completed by October.

The RDC plans on spending $80,425 for this project, including the purchase and demolition of the building along with sidewalk and alleyway improvements.

Orchard said Charlson's proposal is still being reviewed by appropriate city departments. The RDC is expected to take action on the proposal at its April 18 meeting.

Murphy said he hopes this is the initiative which will spur redevelopment where needed in the city's neighborhoods.

"Sometimes it just takes a spark by the city to get something started. With that little spark from the city, we can take care of these blighted properties," Murphy said.

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Porter County Reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for nearly 40 years, including 23 years with The Times. She's a native of Merrillville, but has lived in Portage for 39 years. She covers municipal and school government in Porter County.