The word LaPorte is French for the door.
Opening that door in 1832 and incorporating in 1835, LaPorte is the county seat. In the last few years, Mayor Mark Krentz and local government have partnered with several developers to open the to the city and neighboring communities to quality-of-life attractions as well as tech jobs.
LaPorte Hospital has been treating patients for more than 47 years. Now a new hospital that's part of the Community Health Systems, a publicly traded company in Tennessee, with state-of-the-art technology is being built next door to the original.
“It was extremely important to our downtown area to keep the new hospital in the same area,” said Bert Cook, executive director of the Greater LaPorte Economic Development Corp. “The ripple effect of the hospital in terms of jobs and subsidiary businesses will help our downtown remain vibrant.”
The new hospital is a $125-million-dollar investment in the city. Foundations were poured in March and April. “The hospital plans to open in 2020,” Cook said. “Meanwhile, patients will still be able to receive quality health care at the existing hospital next door.”
Community Healthcare is using many local construction companies for the project. Contracts have been awarded to Security Industries of Hobart for fencing; Larson-Danielson of LaPorte for concrete; and Wilson Iron Works in Crown Point for steel.
Cook explained that the GLEDC and city government have put significant effort into transforming the downtown from a shopping center into a destination.
“People are changing the way they shop,” he said. “Online purchases can take a pretty big bite out of brick and mortar businesses. We love our local stores and want to keep them thriving, so we are trying to attract complementary services.”
Restaurants are one focal point. Four Seasons Asian Fusion is a prime example. The Japanese eatery on Lincolnway and brings people to downtown from all over the county. Bare Bones Gastropub, owned by Burn 'Em Brewing, is opening at 518 Lincolnway this spring. It will feature craft beer and casual but unique food concoctions.
This was made possible through the efforts of the City of LaPorte and the city’s Urban Enterprise Association, which purchased the two-story building last year. It recently completed renovations to the structure to prepare it for individuals looking to open and operate a business in the downtown area.
“When people come to town and visit a place like Asian Fusion or Bare Bones, they stay in the area and visit our shops,” Cook said. “Our goal is to bring in more businesses that are destinations in themselves, hoping the ripple effect keeps visitors downtown.”
Modern townhomes and upscale apartments are being built to attract residents who don't want a large yard and the associated upkeep.
Flaherty & Collins Properties is developing a 200-unit multifamily complex within the NewPorte Landing project. “This will provide 200 upscale apartments to our community,” Cook said. “We’re an older community, and we need new residential projects to attract millennials and to keep empty-nesters. This one will help us achieve that goal.”
Legacy Hills is a 14-townhome development underway at the golf course of the same name. “It’s a very unique project for LaPorte and will help us transform the image of our community,” Cook said.
Michigan City is fueling its own boom.
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Thanks to an opportunistic local government, Michigan City has seen more than $322 million in capital investments since 2016.
“Our Mayor (Ron Meer) and our Economic Development Corp. have worked together to retain and attract business development in our city,” said Clarence Hulse, executive director of the EDC. “Our arrow is still pointing up.”
The Amerilodge Group is building a $7.2 million Holiday Inn Express on the city’s south side on Kieffer Road. The 58,000-square-foot motel will create 28 new jobs. The city provided tax abatements for the project. “The Holiday Inn Express will be conveniently located near the hospital,” Hulse said. “That will be beneficial to families who need to stay close to loved ones under the hospital’s care.”
BIG Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Ram is building a $3 million car wash facility close to the dealership on U.S. Hwy 20. The 2,000-square-foot facility will create five new jobs for starters.
Last August, Centier Bank broke ground on its first branch in Michigan City. At 5501 Franklin Street, Centier’s 63rd branch will be a 2,000-square-foot bank that adds 15 jobs. “We’re very excited to welcome Centier to Michigan City,” Hulse said.
“Centier has a fantastic reputation with customers and is recognized statewide as a great employer. That’s a win-win for our residents.”
In December, the city council completed the annexation of 426 acres between Menke Road, I-94 and Hwy 20. “The location is close to several main transportation arteries that will attract businesses.”
The plan is to reserve 100 acres for residential development and use the rest for commercial and light industry. Hulse said the city is aiming for high-tech businesses who develop electronics, software, and hardware.
“This is a tangible example of the work our city government has done,” Hulse said. “Mayor Meer stays at the forefront of business attraction and retention, and that’s critical for our development. Our city works very hard at bringing in new jobs and new development.”
Retention is also high on Michigan City’s to-do list. Blue Chip Casino is adding a $10 million conference space along with 10 new jobs. Mulhern Belting is investing $1 million in a new building that will retain 15 jobs and create 10 more. Fiber Bond invested $280,000 in new equipment, retaining 130 jobs and creating 10 new ones.
Three census tracts in Michigan City were recently recognized as Opportunity Zones by the federal government. All three overlap areas where the South Shore Line double-track is expected to spur private-sector development, according to Hulse.
In addition to the 100 acres from annexation put aside for residential development, the city is pushing for non-beachfront housing in the middle-class price range.
“Woodlands is a prime example,” Hulse said of the development at Tryon Road and State Road 212. “They are currently building 25 townhomes and 13 more single-family homes for middle-class buyers.”
“We need the housing that families seek,” he said. “We want the people who take these new jobs to find a great place to live right here in Michigan City.”
The city will continue to focus on amenities that bring the working class to the city. The shops, sand, and smiles will take it from there.