The city of La Porte is located in northwest Indiana in LaPorte County. It was first settled in 1832 and became a city in 1852 with approximately 5,000 residents, however French fur traders had been in the area since the 1670s when it was part of the Potawatomi Indian Nation. The fur traders actually named it La Porte, French for the door, as the area had a wide trail through the forest. La Porte is within a one-hour drive from the Chicago Loop. It is also within a one-day’s drive of half of the population of the United States with access to the city coming in via 9 national highways, 7 airports, 10 rail and public transit carriers and one global port.
La Porte is a community focused on business development and maintaining a vibrant, revitalized downtown to attract new residents, businesses, and add quality of life for current ones. The city has been awarded funds from a few different programs to beautify the downtown. Downtown La Porte is home to many shops and restaurants, and unlike other small towns across the state, is thriving. La Porte was among nine Indiana communities to participate in a new state-wide initiative last year, called the IMPACT Main Street program which seeks to strengthen and protect existing businesses. The program is a joint project with The Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA) and the Indiana U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development. The city of La Porte received $100,000 for their downtown projects. In addition to the IMPACT program, La Porte was one of two winners of the INspire Idea competition at the Great Lakes Regional Main Street Conference last year. The city received $5,000 for more beautification projects. The goal of the competition was to encourage inspiring and imaginative downtown revitalization projects. La Porte’s project was called Paint the Town and was a series of service projects undertaken by volunteers for aesthetic improvements.
Now that the city is facing a challenge to its local businesses imposed by COVID-19, LaPorte County partnered with the State of Indiana to offer assistance to its struggling business owners in the form of a grant program. The program will help 27 businesses across the county and will save 144 jobs. The LaPorte County Action Fund and the Office of Rural Affairs funded the grants. The county is seeking support for a second round of funds to help 30-40 more businesses. The city is also seeking ways to make it easier to attract and work with business owners in the community. Last year the Greater La Porte Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, and the Greater La Porte Economic Development (GLEDC) Board of Directors agreed to form a new alliance and combine forces. The new alliance will allow both entities to work independently with oversight from the two boards of directors, but they will share staff and work in the same building to streamline and expand their capabilities for the development of the La Porte community. A nod to their business friendly environment, the The Michigan City-La Porte area ranked 83rd on the list, 2019 Best Cities for Small Business by chamberofcommerce.org. The list looked at several factors such as job creation rates, per capita income, percentage of the young population with a bachelor’s degree or above, median earnings of people ages 25 or older with a bachelor’s degree, unemployment rates and total sales figures/numbers of firms combined into one variable.
LA PORTE, A BUSINESS FRIENDLY COMMUNITY
The northwest Indiana region continues to benefit from its business-friendly environment and proximity to the Chicago market. In particular, La Porte offers a number of business incentive programs, including the La Porte Urban Enterprise Zone. More than 450 businesses are currently part of the La Porte Urban Enterprise Zone which was established in 2002 to promote job creation, new business opportunities, development, and grant dollars to existing downtown and industrial businesses.1 Because of this, the region is experiencing growth in the number of new companies and residents locating to the area. There are several tax credits and a deduction available in the Enterprise Zone. These include an investment deduction, investment cost credit, employee expense credit, and an employee tax deduction, which applies to qualified employees who live and work in the zone. Grant programs include a 50/50 grant for exterior renovations, an 80/20 facade grant program, and a development grant that includes interior renovations for both commercial and residential projects. The La Porte Urban Enterprise Association (LPUEA) is a 501 (c) 3 not-for-profit organization which serves as the governing body of the La Porte Urban Enterprise Zone. The Association acts as a liaison among Zone residents, businesses and the City of La Porte.
Several significant projects that are currently underway in La Porte:
- A former Allis Chalmers industrial site on the lake front in La Porte, which closed in 1980, has undergone a $4 million remediation for a new development, NewPorte Landing. A new 200-unit multifamily development, The Banks, is scheduled to begin construction in July, with completion planned in 18 months. The site has already attracted some development, including a Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, a medical building, and the Dunes Volleyball Club and also offers trails. The city of La Porte will contribute $6 million to the $35 million project.2 “The City of La Porte could not be more excited about partnering with Flaherty & Collins. David Flaherty, Julie Collier and the entire F&C Team have been tremendous allies in this process and we are looking forward to The Banks Development on the NewPorte Landing skyline for many years to come,” said Mayor Tom Dermody.
- La Porte also has several medical facilities under construction. Beacon Health System and Franciscan Health broke ground last October on a new 28,000 square-foot addition to Beacon’s existing 20,000 square-foot facility. The $21.6 million investment also includes renovations on the Beacon Medical building. The building will be complete this summer. Franciscan opened their newly constructed Legacy Hills Health Center. Community Healthcare System is building a new $125 million facility downtown. The project was part of a deal to commit to building a new hospital after purchasing the La Porte Hospital from IU Health in 2016. The new hospital is at 1007 Lincoln Way, adjacent to the current one, and will be 200,000 square-feet. Construction is scheduled for completion in October 2020. The old hospital will most likely be torn down, but plans haven’t yet been finalized.
- LaPorte County officials are seeking to expand the Kingsbury Industrial Park. The park is located approximately 6 miles south of the city of La Porte. The park recently received a state grant of $1 million to add a rail spur at existing rail lines. Adding the rail spur will connect two of the largest rail lines in the country, CN and CSX. Due to turmoil in the trucking industry, rail access may become a more important factor industrial users consider during site selection. According to the American Trucking Association, rail could offer a savings of around 45% on some shipping costs.
- Mattress maker, Corsicana announced plans in August 2020 to open a production facility in La Porte. They will invest $8.6 million and plan to employ 350 by 2023. The 165,000-square foot facility located at 755 S 500 West, received $2.3 million in tax credits from the Indiana Economic Development Council, based on their job creation plans. LaPorte County is also providing employee training assistance funds. The company has opened a temporary facility in Michigan City to start hiring and training. The company cited La Porte’s proximity to suppliers and logistics as part of the their location decision.
Jim Nicksic and Steve Nicksic, CCIM of Bradley Company know first hand how the city of La Porte works with not just brokers, but also property owners. They bought The Lofts, a 3-story office building in downtown La Porte at 824 Lincolnway West in the La Porte Urban Enterprise Zone. The property, which also contains a restaurant on the ground floor was built in 1900 and is mostly brick. The building had its interior renovated in 2007, however, the facade needed tuck pointing repairs to its exterior brick. Steve was able to work with the city to get incentives to assist with the repairs, specifically, Bert Cook Executive Director with the La Porte Economic Advancement Partnership (LEAP), was integral to the process. The building received approval and is undergoing repairs. When complete, Jim and Steve will receive a grant of $20,000 from the 80/20 grant program. “I’ve never seen such a generous municipality who are so focused on maintaining their downtown core”- Steve Nicksic.
MAPLE LANE MALL / RURAL KING
Another project that Bradley Company worked on includes the sale of the Maple Lane Mall to Rural King in 2017. The Maple Lane Mall was once a hub of commerce in La Porte. However, like many indoor malls throughout the United States, changes in consumer spending habits hit the facility hard. In its heyday, Levine’s and Kmart anchored the mall, with a variety of local retail also represented. Kmart, the last anchor store remaining closed its doors in 2017.1 Rural King closed on the sale of the 221,000-square-foot center October 27, 2017 for $4.1 million. The listed seller of the mall, built in 1975, was a trust with the International Bank of Chicago.2 The property, one of the largest parcels in the city, had become an eyesore and badly in need of a redevelopment. The city of La Porte worked with Rural King to extend the Urban Revitalization Zone to cover the Maple Lane Mall property. The improvements will include renovations to the mall for additional tenants as well as parking lot upgrades. Rural King plans to invest nearly $3 million in the project and the Redevelopment Commission is committing $550,000. Rural King plans to open by March 2021. Any new tenants signing leases at the property going forward will have the opportunity to take advantage of the additional funds to open their businesses at the former mall. “We are very pleased Rural King has chosen to locate a store here in La Porte. We believe the partnership between the La Porte Redevelopment Commission and La Porte Urban Enterprise Association is a unique one that allows us to make dramatic improvements in our community. We are excited to see this building put back into use and appreciate Rural King’s investment in La Porte.” – Bert Cook, Executive Director of the La Porte Economic Advancement Partnership