Over the last few years, through the work of community-minded civic and business leaders as well as economic development officials, the City of La Porte has experienced an incredible revitalization of their historic downtown area which has helped transform the city as a whole, and change the face of La Porte’s bustling downtown district in particular.
From the 16 newly painted buildings and updated facades to the new Plaza 618, which brought the City of La Porte, the Downtown La Porte Main Street Association, La Porte Urban Enterprise Association and La Porte Hospital together to identify, plan and build an innovative entertainment spot unlike anything in the region, the city’s downtown has taken a leap into the future.
Going back to the mid-2000’s, the city’s Urban Enterprise Association (UEA) implemented a facade grant program based around a 50/50 reimbursement grant to help lessen the cost for downtown business and building owners who would be interested in replacing and repairing the exterior of their location. While the program has been successful, city officials and advocates began thinking about ways to create a similar grant program that would be more affordable and create an opportunity that would be too good for business and building owners to pass up.
“It (50/50 grant) was a great program for many years and it continues to be,” said Thaddeus Cutler, Downtown Director for the City of La Porte. “About two years ago, I was talking with Mike Riehle, President of the Urban Enterprise Association, and the question came up as to how we create, sort of, a mini explosion in people wanting to renovate their facade. The overall resounding answer was that you have to make an offer that the building owner can’t refuse.”
Through discussions between city officials and the UEA, it was decided that part of what deterred building owners previously was the reimbursement part of the grant where the owners would pay for the entirety of the project and then be reimbursed for 50% of the cost of the project.
“Another thing we discussed was adjusting the percentages,” Cutler added. “We fell on the number 80% and 20%, where the building owner would only pay for 20% of the cost and the Urban Enterprise Association would cover the other 80% of the project. There was the thought that we could end up spending a lot of money on windows, so it was decided that the new facade grant would cover the cost of any restructuring of the brick work, the painting of the brick if they choose to do so, and a new or replacement awning, whether it’s re-stretching fabric on an old awning or putting up a new awning.”
Though not covered under the 80/20 facade grant, if a building owner's repairs involved the replacing of windows, the original 50/50 grant has remained in place to help defray the cost of window replacement.
Officials then decided to initiate the program by going block by block in the downtown area. After first approaching and meeting with several building owners, there was some initial interest from three individuals. Having budgeted for eight projects for the entire year, five other building owners interested in the grant were soon identified and the momentum has carried from there.
Horizon Bank’s Mike Riehle serves as a business representative on the board of the Urban Enterprise Association and is the organization’s president. Riehle noted how he’s seen, over the last several years, the impact that reinvesting in the community can have and, in particular, the great things happening downtown.
“The downtown is a primary focus and it’s hard to revitalize these things because private investors don’t often have the money to come in and put extensive capital into a building that might not have the value to support it when it’s complete,” Riehle said.
“Our economic development corporation has done a good job of informing local businesses that their capital improvements and investments come with tax incentives,” Riehle added. “The word of mouth and the visual aesthetics that have taken place over the last year has led to us already having eight or nine businesses in line for the grants next year. It’s an exciting thing and it’s going to pay dividends down the road for the visual effect of our downtown. It’s got people more excited about filling buildings and bringing businesses downtown.”
La Porte City Council Member, Laura Cutler, governs the 3rd Ward which covers the south side of Lincolnway and she’s noticed the incredible impact that the 80/20 grants and the capital improvement tax incentives have had over the last several years. As both a council member and a business owner downtown, Cutler has a unique interest in the work to revitalize the district.
“If we really wanted to kick-start people into wanting to improve the look of their building we had to give them a better deal, and when they increased it to 80/20 the response and participation was overwhelming,” Cutler said. “The appearance has improved dramatically and I think that created so much pride in our business owners that it improved the look of not only the facade, but also the back alleys and things that aren’t covered by the grant.”
“I’ve always thought that experiencing cultural and visual things like art and music gives you a quality of life and a sense of place,” said Cutler. “It gives you a sense of joy and happiness with your surroundings. The Plaza downtown is another thing that changes the culture of downtown. We see more families and more kids playing in the splash pad, people enjoying take-out food and eating it under the umbrellas, and it creates a community center. La Porte had a center, in a sense, but over time it wasn’t a gathering place. What we’ve done is we’ve created that plaza which is a gathering place; the Farmer’s Market creates a gathering place; Movie Night creates a gathering place. All these things draw the community together and revitalizing our downtown creates a comfort level in walking downtown, and going in to explore shops and businesses that they might’ve forgotten about.”
It’s taken years of work on the part of public and city officials, building owners, economic development organizations and private interests who have come together to work towards rebuilding and revitalizing La Porte’s historic downtown. Their efforts have changed the city and the impact of those efforts will be felt and enjoyed by generations of future La Porte residents and visitors alike.
La Porte, IN 46350
Visit Greater La Porte Economic Development Corporation Partner Profile