LaPorte intends to offer disounted liquor licenses to lure restaurants to the city, including the downtown.

LAPORTE — A more family friendly downtown that promotes healthy living seems to be the vision for LaPorte.

Work has just started on a strategic long-range plan for the area encompassing downtown, New Porte Landing and Clear Lake.

City Planner Beth Shrader said the visitor-generating success of Dunes Event Center at New Porte Landing, along with trails and other recreational amenities emerging around it, provide a glimpse of the direction that could be taken for the whole area.

More than 20 annual events, including regional volleyball tournaments, are held at the 50,000-square-foot Dunes Event Center now in its second year of operation in LaPorte.

Adding to the traffic will be 200 resort-type condominiums expected to start going up soon at Clear Lake.

Connections for convenient back-and-forth travel among downtown, New Porte Landing and Clear Lake are being developed for motor vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians.

"We want this place to be inviting for families. We want it to be safe. We want it to be fun and be a destination,” Shrader said.

SmithGroup, a private architectural and planning firm with locations nationwide and China, is taking the lead role in developing strategies for the area termed the "Heart of LaPorte."

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Greater opportunities for kayaking, more restaurants, reducing truck traffic and better housing were among the ideas expressed from the public during an input gathering session last week at city hall.

"When you tell people you’re from LaPorte, what makes it great? What is the thing that you want to point people to?" said Kathleen Duffy, an associate planner with SmithGroup out of Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Former mayor Leigh Morris called the strategic planning for LaPorte a major breakthrough.

Morris has called for a plan for years, but said he believes it’s finally happening because New Porte Landing is taking shape along with improvements downtown and private investments, giving a strategic plan something to build around.

Morris said the most important thing now is to keep moving forward, recognizing the positives happening now mean the struggles of the past can be overcome.

"There’s excitement coming. There’s change coming. There’s progress coming, and I think that maybe gives the impetus for planning that may not have been there in the past,’’ Morris said.

Another public planning session is expected to be held before the end of the year.

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