VALPARAISO — For most businesses, a face-lift on a building is often just part of a simple rebranding campaign. For the Hilltop Neighborhood House Food Pantry its renovations were a matter of survival.
After half its stock of food was destroyed in a flood, the charity had to relocate to a new building but needed funds to do it.
The pantry received donations from across the county after local media highlighted the damage a flood caused the pantry's operations back in February 2018. It was able to move to a new building on 606 Union St., which was completely overhauled.
The charity's new facility was one of 10 redeveloped spaces recognized recently during the Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce's 52nd annual Community Improvement Awards.
Hilltop's rebirth at its new property was highlighted by Pat McGinley, chair of the chamber's board of directors, during the ceremony at the County Expo Center.
Thousands of dollars poured in from across the county to help get the pantry back on its feet.
“Our pantry started as just a closet,” Jennifer Wright, CEO of Hilltop Neighborhood House said. “Now 25 years later we're feeding 5,000 people.”
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Local businesses were also praised for the improvement of their property, including Brick Street Burrito as well as Jordy and Jax Barbecue.
Brick Street took the former hot dog stand on Napoleon Street in the city's downtown and turned it into a modern fast-casual restaurant serving up California-style burritos and other Mexican cuisine. The old hot dog stand's brick exterior was painted bright white and a fence was added outside to provide for additional dining space. The interior was given a more modern look.
Tom Long, president of internet provider NITCO, lives close to Brick Street Burrito. He praised the redeveloped space as an improvement to the neighborhood.
“It's a concept wife and I have been passionate about since our time out in college in San Diego,” the restaurant's owner Evan Costas said. “ We thought we could restore (the building) to be something really cool. It's fun to be part of the downtown.”
The upgrades to publicly owned buildings like the Valparaiso High School and the County's Expo Center were given awards, too.
“There's a lot of history at (the Expo Center). It was recognized back in the '80s, when it was originally built,” Commissioner Jeff Good said. “Here we are doing a sort of shampoo rinse and repeat I guess you could say.”
The remaining developments given awards were St Agnes Day Services Center for its new garden near St. Paul church, upgrades to the McMahon and Associates facility, a new retail building on 1703 Calumet Ave. and the rehabilitated Grand Trunk Train Depot, which was turned into a school.