VALPARAISO — In what officials here hope will be the near future, they envision an area where commuters can park their cars or bikes and hop on a bus to jobs in Chicago or metropolitan airports.
On their way, the commuters could drop off their dry cleaning, pick up a cup of coffee or walk a nearby trail to take them to the city's downtown just a few blocks away.
Maybe, just maybe, it could also be a place for people to live, play or go to work in nearby offices, stay at a hotel or even attend a happening at an event center.
The sky is the proverbial limit for what can happen at the city's proposed transit-oriented development surrounding the old ANCO manufacturing building on South Campbell Street.
"It will take time for this area to develop, but there is a ton of opportunity for growth," said Valparaiso's Planning Director Tyler Kent.
The last user of the multistory former manufacturing facility, its history dating back to 1866, was ANCO, which manufactured wiper blades. The company closed up shop, said Economic Development Director Patrick Lyp, in the late 1960s, early 1970s.
While a furniture store occupies a portion of the building, it has for the most part been left vacant.
"It has not been utilized to its highest potential," Lyp said.
City officials began to look at the area about two years ago, eyeing it as a way to extend or complement the city's growing downtown development.
Lyp said they felt the site could be repurposed or reused. Engineers looked at the building and found it to be structurally sound.
With what he and Kent called an "explosion" in the use of the ChicaGo Dash bus line to downtown Chicago, officials targeted the site to locate a larger parking area. The present parking lot, adjacent to the Franklin House, is overflowing with travelers parking along Lincolnway to hop the bus. Some 140 to 150 people take the bus into Chicago each day and a fifth bus will be added in 2018 to accommodate the growth.
The city's Redevelopment Commission already has reconstructed a parking lot at the corner of South Campbell and Brown streets. Since Nov. 1, travelers to O'Hare or Midway airports are able to catch a Coach USA bus to one of those destinations. Lyp said the ChicaGo Dash parking will be moved there beginning Monday. A secondary parking lot also is under construction.
The RDC has been purchasing properties along Brown and South Campbell streets. The nine homes will be removed. The immediate plan is to push Brown Street most likely to the south and Campbell Street to the east. American StructurePoint has been hired to engineer the project, which will be undertaken next year.
The city will turn one of the existing buildings on the property into a transit center to accommodate offices for the various bus lines, including ChicaGo Dash, Coach USA and possibly the VLine.
The city received a grant from the Regional Development Authority for $6.7 million and has committed to spend a minimum of another $6.7 million on the project.
Lyp said the city doesn't see it as their role to redevelop the entire area, but to "put these properties in shape to be developed."
In early spring, the RDC will put out requests for proposals seeking a private partner in the development of the rest of the property, Lyp added.
The request for proposals will seek ideas for the redevelopment of the area. It could be redeveloped solely by a private developer or in a public/private partnership.
"We are open to any type of relationship," Lyp said. Once the RFPs are received, they will be evaluated and a developer will be chosen, he said.
The end development, he said, would be a complement to the city's downtown with a "high level" of connectivity between the transit district, the downtown and the Creative Arts District, which connects the downtown to Valparaiso University.