AP NEWS

La Porte has a problem and that’s a good thing

August 31, 2018

La PORTE – The City of La Porte has a problem but, depending on who you ask – including the city’s top economic development professional – it might just be a good thing.

“La Porte is a stronger place than it’s been in the last 20 to 25 years,” Bert Cook, executive director of the Greater La Porte Economic Development Commission, said.

Economic development experts generally look at three phases to growth – retail, industrial and housing.

The city is definitely making progress on all three fronts, Cook said. And he thinks three major projects have contributed – NewPorte Landing, the Thomas Rose Industrial Park and the downtown corridor.

“All are in a growth phase,” he said.

So what’s the problem?

Jobs, but not in the way you might think.

“Every big company in town, every manufacturing operation in town is hiring now,” Cook said. “Unemployment is creeping to record lows ... The city is growing so fast they just can’t find enough qualified workers for those jobs.”

The NewPorte Landing project, Cook said, might be a microcosm of what is going on across the city.

The area just north of downtown – bounded by Truesdell Avenue, Pine Lake Avenue, Clear Lake and the railroad tracks – was formerly the site of Allis-Chalmers, until the city’s largest employer went out of business in the 1980s.

“The city struggled to redevelop that area,” Cook said. “There were environmental issues and infrastructure issues, and a lot of other things. It took 20 years of work to get to where we are today.”

Where they are today is a project that Cook calls “transformational” and “exciting.”

New businesses have already started appearing, led by Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks, and more recently the Dunes Volleyball facility, he said. But that’s the tip of the iceberg.

Flaherty & Collins Properties has been approved for a 200-unit multifamily development that will be the “heart of the NewPorte Landing project,” Cook said.

The $30 million development will include two buildings totaling about 167,000 square feet along the shores of Clear Lake. The housing units will include a resort-style pool with wet deck, outdoor courtyard featuring a fire pit and grilling station, pet wash and bark park, fitness center, bike storage and repair areas and more.

Construction is set to being next summer, with the opening scheduled for 2020.

And there’s more.

Holladay Properties is the lead developer for a 17-acre parcel of NewPorte Landing that will feature retail development – restaurants, retail shops and medical-retail tenants – at Pine Lake and Truesdell. Construction should begin this fall. Holladay is also in the early planning stages for two adjacent retail buildings totaling 15,000 square feet to attract additional businesses.

“This is just an exciting project,” Cook said. “It is a great to see a property being rebirthed as something new.”

He said unlike Michigan City, where housing might be the biggest need, according to its economic development staff, La Porte has long been lacking in retail development.

“Michigan City and La Porte are significantly different as to how the business base is made up,” Cook said. “Housing might be a bigger need there, but La Porte’s most drastic need has been more retail. That can be a negative, but also a positive, because there is so much opportunity for new business.”

With the development of NewPorte Landing, and some renewed interest downtown, that positive could become reality soon.

“Downtown is seeing a boom,” Cook said. “There have been a number of new openings, including Four Seasons Asian Fusion restaurant, the Hot Spot Cafe, and soon the Bare Bones, run by Burn ’Em Brewing out of Michigan City, which is to open by October.

“We’ve also had major changes visually downtown. The city has painted and tuckpointed 15 buildings so far in the La Porte Urban Enterprise Zone. You’re gonna see a totally different look.”

The new RQAW Engineering headquarters, which opened last November, meant another refurbished building; and Cook expects that when the new La Porte Hospital is complete in 2020, it will spur even more growth.

“La Porte Hospital is closely tied to downtown, and the $125 million new facility will be a major improvement. It shows the hospital’s commitment to La Porte and should be a catalyst-type project that creates even more opportunities for retail growth.”

While the retail sector in La Porte appears on track for growth in coming years, the industrial sector is also strong.

“The Thomas Rose Industrial Park Space Center will be a boost for industrial growth similar to what NewPorte Landing will be for retail,” Cook said. “The city invested with the developer into 137 acres of new industrial park land. About 30 acres has already been sold, and there are 100 acres to go – and lots of interest. It will be a big part of La Porte’s industrial development in the next few years.”

The site has already attracted MonoSol and American Licorice, and more firms are on the way, along with new jobs – good-paying jobs, according to Cook.

And that brings us back to that problem.

“The biggest problem in La Porte is the workforce,” Cook said, “finding the people for all the jobs so the growth can continue.”

The city’s population has remained stable at around 23,000 for several years, he said. But he believes all the new jobs, an expanding retail base and the new housing development will bring more residents.

“I think all this growth will attract new people, which is what everyone wants,” he said, adding the La Porte Community Schools will also be a magnet.

“All the work by the school corporation and the new facilities will be exciting to the community and to outsiders,” he said. “People and businesses looking to possibly come here will see that as a big draw.”

New businesses, industries and housing, plus updated schools and a new hospital, will attract more people, which will help fill the new jobs and provide customers for the expanding retail base.

“Things are absolutely looking up,” Cook said. “La Porte has been in growth mode for a while and the local economy is very strong. I’ve seen a lot of very positive change in my time (14 years) here.”

PLANS & PROGRESS

In two special sections (C and D) today, The Herald-Argus looks at recent progress made in La Porte and La Porte County, from hospitals to schools, libraries to roads, tourist attractions to community organizations. We also look at plans that are in the works or soon to get started, from a new hospital to a new school campus.

But with everything going on around the county, two special sections were not enough, so we will continue to highlight plans and progress in various sections of the newspaper in the days and weeks to come. If you know of major progress in any endeavor that we might have missed, or big plans in the works, let us know. Plans and progress never stop, and we don’t want to stop letting our readers know about it. Contact managing editor Jeff Mayes at jmayes@thenewsdispatch.com with suggestions and story ideas.

AP RADIO
Update hourly