Visiting Michigan City several times a year for more than 35 years, my family has enjoyed seeing a variety of annual and special events like the Independence Day parade, Drum & Bugle Competition. Oktoberfest, the Pan Am Games and more. The 9th annual Great Lakes Grand Prix, coupled with the Taste of Michigan City, was among the best showcases of Michigan City we have ever seen.
The parade held downtown on Franklin Street was electric with overflowing crowds as far as the eye could see north and south. Many from the racing teams who travel the national offshore super boat circuit were quoted saying Michigan City is a favorite venue due to the exceptional parade turnout, the charm when MC's downtown is bustling with excitement, the friendliness of locals, plus Michigan City's beautiful setting which has Olympic qualities and a lake front with colors that Great Lake Grand Prix race announcers compared to the Caribbean.
Like countless communities in the Midwest and nationally over the last half century, Michigan City experienced the decline of its downtown district, along with the rise and now fall of the shopping mall era. Michigan City demonstrated its foresight and ability to think-big when decisions were made to relocate the airport to make room for the current era of big box retailers. Tastes and lifestyles evolve over the generations, at least sometimes partially influenced by changing environmental factors. Nationally it has been noted that Millennials have demonstrated an interest in moving into and resurrecting downtown areas as more and more prefer walking and cycling conveniences to time demands of lifestyles in sprawling suburbia.
Michigan City planners seem to be aware of these demographic trends as reflected in encouraging improvements to downtown Michigan City over recent decades. Lighthouse Mall was a early building block — a signal of the wisdom of community planners that downtown Michigan City's glory era, reflected in South Shore posters of a yesteryear almost a century ago, could be recaptured.
Reopening Franklin Street to vehicle traffic, along with upgraded street lights, charming plantings, etc., were further building blocks. The latest changes suggest a clever, intuitive development to improve the pulse of downtown — making Pine Street and Washington Street completely two-way. Locals shared that these neighborhoods now have more of a feel of community.
Having grown up in a small harbor town on the East Coast, I admit I have a bias concerning Main Street's direct access to the water. Michigan City has within its grasp an asset/a crown jewel that a vast majority of towns and cities can only dream of — 'direct' access to a harbor and water front.
Back in the 1970s, planners in Michigan City gambled by cutting off Franklin Street at Fourth Street. While the Michigan City Library received design recognition, the severing of direct access to its most valuable asset remains one of the strangest urban planning decisions in the nation. With Michigan City's Library now more than 40 years old, it is intuitive that one day Franklin Street will again have direct access to the lake front. Further, Michigan City's downtown could benefit from a new 21st Century library, possibly on land adjacent to the current location. Could aspects of the current library's structure and/or design be moved or replicated? Michigan City has an opportunity to capitalize on Millennial trends, education needs of Michigan City, and more. A further downtown renaissance and stronger Michigan City economy would be realized with restored direct access to the lake front. Michigan City would also earn windfall of notoriety for courageous urban planning that addresses a significant misstep of over a half century ago.
Continue thinking big Michigan City. Imagine a bustling downtown Franklin Street with direct access to the lakefront, maybe even a rebuilt Peristyle, a high-tech giant hologram that super imposes Hoosier Slide over NIPSCO, along with the reincarnation of passenger liners coming into port with tens of thousands of visitors to Michigan City.
— John BaRoss is a resident of Long Valley, N.J.