PORTAGE — A multiyear initiative outlined at the recent Portage Redevelopment Commission meeting is a U.S. 20 Revitalization Study that Mayor James Snyder sees as a major focal point for the redevelopment commission.
“Focusing on Route 20 has been something many people have tried to do in the past, but it hasn’t been a focus. Under this administration, it’s going to be a focus,” Snyder said. “It’s a real high priority.”
The revitalization project will encompass the corridor along U.S. 20 from the Lake/Porter county line to the eastern boundary of Portage and the areas adjacent to the highway and would, in part, identify buildings for acquisition and demolition.
“We’re at the very earliest stage of the process,” said Portage development finance adviser John Shepherd, who added the scope of the project hasn’t been finalized yet. Shepherd plans on meeting with Director of Public Works A.J. Monroe soon to work out details. A request for project proposals will be created to elicit interest from engineering and architectural firms.
Snyder sees an RFP being completed in roughly two weeks.
"We want to determine the appropriate future for the Highway 20 corridor,” Shepherd said. “The firms will look for deficiencies in public works and identify possible solutions.”
Don’t expect any quick fixes. Shepherd points out the project will “take years and years to complete.”
“We’ve known for a number of years that we would need to look at this issue, but it was a question of capitalization,” Shepherd said.
As to what shape any revitalization might look like, it’s not thought of as a beautification project, though Snyder sees a component of beautification by eliminating blighted properties, or a major retail development such as that found along U.S. 6.
“We’re not looking at retail. The area is zoned for business and light industrial uses. We feel that is the appropriate use for it,” Shepherd said.
It’s not so much a focus on bricks and mortar revitalization but a focus on job creation and growth, a sustainable path for the economic health of Portage, a position that Snyder identified in his first State of the City address.
Snyder foresees “cultivating and finishing the east side for manufacturing, which translates to jobs and a tax base for growth.”
Reflective of the mayor’s broad team-based approach to operations, the revitalization effort will not reflect a single person’s vision. “I don’t think there’s a board or commission in the city that won’t be involved in this. It will be the collective vision of the entire city of Portage,” Shepherd said.
Shepherd anticipates a combination of redevelopment commission funds and grants from federal and state agencies to pay for the revitalization.