Though Griffith is still known as the Town by the Tracks, it’s the foot traffic that has everyone buzzing.
A rebirth of the downtown has sparked development and growth in other parts of this charming community. Events such as the Rock 'N' Rail Music & Street Festival, Broad Street Blues and BBQ Festival, and the Central Market attract visitors who like what they see.
Equally important to the equation is the number of businesses that are vying to enter Griffith and set up shop.
Restaurant Depot is a wholesale cash and carry supply business, selling everything from refrigeration to ovens to furniture to food processing equipment, even uniforms. It recently purchased four tracts of land on Ridge Road and will soon begin development of a 55,000-square-foot supply house.
“This is a big deal for our town,” said Rick Ryfa, town council (R-3) member who spearheaded negotiations. “The Depot is going to invest $6 million-7 million in our community. They will eventually employ about 70 people at that location. When we can attract businesses to build and stay long-term, it benefits all of us in several ways.”
Ryfa said it took two years to put the deal together. “The Depot wanted to expand into Northwest Indiana due to growth in the restaurant business here,” he said. “They also wanted a location that allowed easy access to major highways.”
The 55 acres that used to be a public golf course on the north end of town also appears to be on a path to development, according to Ryfa.
“We have the OK to accept bids on 5 acres that have been approved for development,” he said. “Our redevelopment commission has worked with the Army Corps of Engineers to get that acreage approved for development in a retail or commercial capacity.”
An additional 20 acres will be available, possibly by the end of the year. “A lot of work goes into determining what is preserved wetlands and what is tough to develop because of that,” Ryfa said. “Once the land is approved for development, we’ll take bids and see what the market bears.”
Ryfa said that several businesses have stayed in touch with the town about the property. “We want to focus on retail and/or commercial development,” he said. “We are shying away from industrial at this time. We’d love to see development that can help brings jobs and new opportunities to our residents.”
The location, close to I-80/94 and the Indiana Toll Road, has grabbed the attention of several potential developers.
Likewise Griffith Park Plaza, at the corner of Ridge Road and Cline Avenue, The two organizations that own the property have expressed a willingness to sell, and the town is in discussions with a major developer interested in the land.
“We have a developer who is interested in financing a total redevelopment,” Ryfa says. “We are trying to connect all the parties involved to construct a complete redevelopment in line with today’s designs.”
Next in the town’s sights is a two-pronged development effort. “We want to do a total teardown and redevelopment of the Arbogast/Ridge Road plaza on the west side,” he said. “That corner is in bad shape, and we want to work with the current owners to take down what’s there and rebuild a useful plaza.” That property includes the building that used to house John’s Pizzeria.
The second prong is expanded development on 45th Street, heading toward Highland. Ryfa said several businesses are interested in that location, and the town is working to accommodate them.
Downtown continues to shine
Several years ago, when the Griffith Town Council joined Indiana Main Street and began a revitalization project, downtown occupancy hovered at 40 percent. Diligent efforts have succeeded. Several new businesses in downtown Griffith have helped create a significant increase in foot traffic. Those strolling Broad Street have discovered new shops, restaurants, and pubs.
Shipwreck is a new restaurant that offers a Florida-style seafood and bar atmosphere Vegas Vegas Restaurant and Bar opened on Broad Street, offering a breakfast/lunch café and an entertainment club at night. TwinCade, a pub that highlights gaming, and Charcuterie, an upscale artisan shop that features premium meats and cheeses, are packing them in on Broad Street.
“Downtown occupancy is at its highest point,” said Ryfa. “Sometimes it’s challenging to find a parking spot, which has us working on increasing parking for our patrons. One thing we did is open the municipal parking lots to patrons in the evening.”
With the economic development in play, Griffith’s future is bright. “What we’re seeing now are businesses that view our town as a long-term investment,” Ryfa said. “That is the best news we can get.”