La PORTE — With several major projects underway and more in the works, La Porte's NewPorte Landing is slowly but surely coming into its own.
La Porte Economic Advancement Partnership Executive Director Bert Cook offered his fellow Rotarians a bird's-eye view of the recent developments at the brownfield site during his presentation to the Rotary Club of La Porte on Monday.
A 14-year veteran of the economic development field, Cook has helmed LEAP since its creation this February. The organization is a partnership between the Greater La Porte Economic Development Corp. — which Cook led as executive director for eight years — and the Greater La Porte Chamber of Commerce.
Cook has spent years spearheading the effort to turn the 45-acre NewPorte Landing property — the former location of an Allis-Chalmers factory just off Pine Lake Avenue — into a vital cog of the La Porte economy.
At the heart of that transformation is The Strand, a $35 million high-end apartment complex. Spanning three buildings across 4 acres of land, the Flaherty & Collins Properties project is expected to break ground next spring, following the completion of the cleanup currently underway at the parcel, Cook said.
The complex will feature 200 apartments, which will cost between $900 and $1,400, Cook said.
"While it is an elevated price point, it also has a series of other amenities that are available to residents that you wouldn't get otherwise," he said. "That [price] includes a gym membership, a saltwater pool, kayak storage, things like that."
The Strand will also have 5,000 feet of retail space at Hoelocker Drive and Truesdell Avenue, slightly north of downtown.
Officials hope the project will attract more young professionals to relocate to La Porte, Cook said. This demographic typically prefers to rent property when moving to a new community, spending several years working and laying down roots before committing to buying or building a home, he said.
"We have such little choice on the rental side and some of our neighboring communities have such great choice that those young people almost always end up in Chesterton, Valparaiso, Elkhart or Mishawaka," Cook said.
Also under construction at Newport Landing is a 12,000-square-foot medical office. Holladay Properties, which owns the property, plans to lease to La Porte Hospital for general practitioner offices and urgent care services, Cook said.
City officials are also in talks with Aldi, which intends to build a new store on the former Little Tavern property on Truesdell, Cook said.
The La Porte Redevelopment Commission, which oversees development at Newport Landing, also has a 17-acre vacant parcel the board is shopping around, Cook said.
Though Kroger initially had plans to build a new store on the property, the company pushed back the timetable for the project until 2025, prompting the RDC to put the land back on the market.
Meijer briefly expressed interest in the parcel as well, but later backed away from it, citing fears that a new La Porte store would hurt business at its existing locations in Michigan City and Valparaiso, Cook said.
Despite the setbacks, Cook believes the parcel can play a significant role in filling in some of the gaps in La Porte's business scene, he said. For example, the city lacks a major clothing retailer, as well as popular chain restaurants like Chili's or Applebee's, he said.
"I think we do a great job on the independent restaurant side — think Enzo or Bare Bones," Cook said. "Those are great options...but you have to add to that. Unfortunately, people will choose to go to other communities where's there much more choice."
The incoming Dermody administration will play a significant role in shaping the direction the city will pursue when it comes to further development of the site, Cook added.
While the site still has a long way to go, officials already see success from previous NewPorte Landing developments, including the Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts locations built on the property in recent years.
The Dunes Event Center, which opened last year, has been a particular standout, Cook said. La Porte's Dunes Volleyball Club regularly hosts massive events at the 55,000-square-foot facility, drawing massive crowds to the city.
"Culver's — twice — has sold out of food on days Dunes Volleyball has held tournaments," Cook said. "They now have a little better communication on when those dates are so that doesn't happen."
Thanks to a $220,000 Indiana Office of Tourism grant, the center recently had its entire parking lot paved and landscaping installed, with a new sign on the way as well.
Despite the economic opportunities NewPorte Landing offers La Porte, Cook still encounters pushback from some in the community about the environmental condition of the site, he said.
Allis-Chalmers, which operated its factory on the property until 1983, did not have the same level of environmental oversight that manufacturers today experience, Cook said. As a result, the site suffered from pockets of soil contamination that required remediation.
Though some have suggested leaders should have fenced off the site and not invested in its rehabilitation, Cook said that was not an acceptable option. By partnering with businesses, La Porte can bring private money and other resources to the table to fund cleanup rather than rely on local taxes.
"That's typically how brownfield redevelopment occurs across the United States," Cook said. "We're very sure that's the methodology that ultimately results in the best-case scenario for the city, which is a property in the center of our city getting redeveloped and put back into productive use."
Cook also touched on positive developments occurring elsewhere in La Porte.
The LEAP director mentioned that officials are still working with Rural King to open a new store in La Porte's westside, which would breathe new life into the former Maple Lane Mall area, he said.
Cook is also pleased with the progress of the new $125 million La Porte Hospital facility downtown. Besides offering an enhanced location for health care, once the hospital opens late next year it will begin generating property tax revenue for the city, something the previous nonprofit hospital did not, Cook said.
One challenge the new administration at city hall will have to tackle is finding a new use for the former hospital building, Cook mentioned.
"It's something La Porte doesn't see a lot," he said. "You don't have big pieces of land to develop in the center of the city."