MICHIGAN CITY – Home values across Michigan City have increased by 49 percent since 2013, according to Don Babcock, president of the Michigan City Redevelopment Commission.

Babcock addressed the Common Council recently with City Planning Director Craig Phillips, who presented the annual report of the Redevelopment Commission, and Planning & Redevelopment/Inspection Department.

"Routinely, the arguments are that all the money is going to the lakefront, not to the general community,” Babcock said. “This report shows that, in fact, everyone's home value is increasing significantly ... we are building a phenomenal, high-quality place to live, play and work."

Phillips said one goal for both entities is to conduct a citywide housing study to evaluate the current housing stock, which he believes is “seriously lacking” what he called “middle-range” housing.

He also hopes to implement a program that would help homeowners improve their properties.

Currently, local residents may qualify for assistance with emergency home repairs and restorations by petitioning the city to use some of the $656,370 in funds awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for public service projects.

So far, Phillips said, the money has been used to help fund the Eastport Streetscape Resurfacing Program; to establish two community gardens in the Eastport neighborhood; and to help various nonprofit agencies.

The annual report also documents various projects that have been completed around town recently, and the city’s progress on projects expected to take multiple years to complete.

On the south end of town, the Ohio Street Reconstruction Project is mostly complete, with $1.5 million left in bond capacity. Phillips said the city plans to use the remainder to repair the pavement along Village Road and improve storm water capacity near Village and Crestwood Drive this summer.

"It's the major road in that area, and we want to make sure we get it in as good a condition as we can get it,” he said. “So, that's what we intend to do with the remaining funds."

Moving over to Franklin Street south of U.S. 20, Phillips said the city hopes to make pedestrian improvements, including streetscaping and the addition of sidewalks on at least one side of the street.

Phase 1 of the Ameriplex Project is well underway, he said, noting six or seven of the eight spaces in the Haskell Building are occupied. And the city is discussing moving onto the second building, has built Ameriplex Drive, and will extend that road to Meijer Drive during Phase 2 of the project.

Phillips said another goal he has for that area is for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to extend Town Centre Drive to the Walmart access road.

As for what is to come of the former Marquette Mall, Phillips said the city has experienced difficulties in working with the property owners to find a solution.

"Unfortunately, the owner of the mall seems to have decided to use the mall as a tax shelter or a tax write-off, and that presents some challenges,” he said. “And communities across the United States are struggling with mall owners in the same regard. We'll just continue to try to work with that owner to try to develop the site."

On the north end of town, the site of the future central or civic plaza was a major point of interest in Phillips’ presentation.

Phillips said the city acquired the properties at 701-709 Franklin St., and demolished 701-705 last year. The property at 709 Franklin is currently undergoing demolition.

A rendering of what the city thinks the plaza might look like has been designed, and a joint workshop for the City Council and Redevelopment Commission is planned for June. Phillips said bids for construction should open soon after the workshop.

After recently terminating its agreement with the developer that had planned to build high-end apartments and retail space on the former Memorial Hospital site on Pine Street, the city is seeking a new developer to bring in a fresh project there.

Phillips said the city fulfilled its end of the agreement as it pertains to that property by removing old utilities and getting the site “shovel-ready” for new development. And Babcock elaborated, noting the developer misrepresented its abilities to uphold its end of the agreement, causing the project to fail.

However, Babcock said, at least four other developers have approached the city about wanting to take over the project.

“Most specifically is just to make sure that the developer is absolutely clear and committed to what their participation is on the front end of a project before we pull the trigger on agreements or even any memorandum of understanding,” Phillips said, answering Councilman Tim Bietry’s question regarding what the city has learned from the experience.

He compared it to the hotel project that was discussed for the land adjacent to City Hall, the former sites of the Michigan City Police station and The News-Dispatch. The developer, Phillips said, decided to pull money from the project, making the plan infeasible; and the city was not willing to foot the bill for the difference. However, the city continues to seek a developer to open a lakefront hotel at that site.

Phillips said construction of Phase 1 of the Singing Sands Trail is set to begin this summer after 16 years of anticipation. He hopes that portion will be open to the public next summer, around the time that Phase 2 of the construction is set to begin. Phase 3 remains in the engineering process.

Washington Park has seen its fair share of recent improvements, Phillips said, like the near completion of the west parking lot, restoration of WPA structures like the greenhouse and Rotary Castle, ecological restoration of Bismarck Hill, and relocation of the EMA siren.

He said the goal is for the park entrance to be redone and a lighting project to be completed there in the near future.

To view the annual report in its entirety, contact the Michigan City Planning & Redevelopment/Inspection Department at 219-873-1419.

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