State of the City

The 2017 State of the City Address was given by Mayor Ron Meer on Tuesday, June 20 at 6:30 PM in the Council Chambers at City Hall. The following is a transcript of the Mayor's address.

2017 State of the City Address

Good evening and welcome to the 2017 State of the City address.  Providing superior city services has always been at the forefront of my administration.  There are a multitude of tasks and expectations that I put on my various departments that many individuals may not recognize or think too much about because they are being accomplished.  I strongly believe in addressing issues such as trash and brush piles, overgrown properties, junk and abandoned cars and potholes.  These are basic, yet essential duties which have a direct and positive impact on our citizen’s quality of life and, under my leadership, we will continue to provide these exceptional services to our community.

Without a doubt, 2016 will be viewed as a memorable year.  Need I say more to that affect than to mention the highly contentious Presidential election featuring two historical candidates or the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series after a 108 year drought?  As I stand before you tonight, on this early 2017 summer evening, I am five and a half years into my tenure as Mayor of this great city.   During this time, my administration, along with the hard-working men and women in all of our departments throughout the city, have accomplished a myriad of wonderful projects and improvements designed to strengthen and grow Michigan City.  As your Mayor, I believe it is imperative to make decisions that will have the greatest positive impact on the greatest number of people.  In addition, those decisions need to be about today AND tomorrow because as Simon Sinek once said, “Leadership is not about the next election, it’s about the next generation.”  

So tonight, I am going to break away from my traditional state of the city speech which mainly focused on the previous year and instead, use this opportunity to take a quick, yet encompassing, look at some of the major accomplishments of my administration in 2016 and since I took office in January of 2012.

The demolition of the Old Goerg Marina.  The vacant Goerg Marina building was an eye sore for all who traveled to our lakefront.  At the end of 2012, that building was removed and in June of 2013, a new public access park built on that site was introduced to our community in a grand opening ceremony.

The Danny Bruce Vietnam Memorial upgrades.  Erected in the 1980’s, the monument at the memorial had an incomplete citation along with an incorrectly displayed medal.  A new plaque, Marine Red in color, reflecting the entire citation, was installed on the monument along with a bronze plaque denoting the correct Marine Corps Medal of Honor.  In addition, a new flagpole and landscape was added to the memorial.  

The new Michigan City Police Station.  This 13 million dollar investment in our community is located where the former dilapidated and unsightly Eastport School once stood.  This building now provides our brave men and women of the police department a state of the art facility from which to work.  In addition, the police department campus is home to Cleveland Playground which features a beautiful new basketball court, new quarter-mile walking track, sledding hill and new playground equipment.

Beginning in July of 2015, The Michigan City Police Department was the first, and are still today the only, police agency in LaPorte County utilizing body cameras.   Since that time, technology for body cameras has developed and improved, making our current cameras dated.  We are currently in the process of upgrading the department’s body cameras by entering a 5-year agreement with Axon Enterprise.  The 5-year contract will cost $61,746 the first year and then $37,316 the final four years.  This upgrade will provide our officers with body cameras that can be activated when they activate their emergency lights or removes their taser or gun from its holster.  The old cameras only activated when an officer tapped his or her camera on.  The new cameras will also come with improved battery life and the new agreement includes a cloud based storage system which is vitally important given the current data storage contract for the old cameras will be expiring.

The Two-Way Street Conversion Project.  The two-way street conversion on the city’s north end focused on Pine Street, Washington Street and 9th Street.  The project included the conversion of the streets from one-way to two-way, decorative pedestrian and high mast lighting, and new bike lanes along with intersection improvements at 2nd and Franklin Streets.

The I-94/Highway 421 Interchange Improvement Project.  In partnership with INDOT, this project included structural and aesthetic improvements and enhancements to the overpass and interchange.  Improvements included a decorative bridge railing featuring the words “Michigan City” and a decorative tri color wave pattern on both railings facing the oncoming traffic east and west along the interstate.  Further improvements included decorative bridge abutments with accent lighting showing a lighthouse inlay in the concrete, decorative lighting and two beautifully illuminated flagpoles proudly displaying large American flags.

The Wabash Street Green Infrastructure Project.  This project included substantial streetscaping such as landscaping, interpretive and historic signage, decorative lighting and the introduction of new rain gardens along the length of Wabash Street from 11th Street to US Highway 12.  A $92,000 grant from the Lake Michigan Coastal Program and a $224,000 green infrastructure grant from the EPA was secured to assist with the overall costs of the project.

Formation of the Committee on Lead.  In early March, I formed the committee on lead with clear goals for the committee to find the best means to educate our community about the dangers of lead and to promote awareness of, and access to, current resources at the local, state, and federal levels.  The committee, led by the Sanitary District’s General Manager, Michael Kuss, recently applied for a 1.5 million dollar grant.  If awarded, this money will be utilized to help with lead abatement in homes in our community.

The Warren Building and Artspace.  Constructed in 1927, the Warren Building sat vacant and near a point of no return.  In 2014, Michigan City was awarded tax credits which propelled the revitalization of the Warren Building into Artspace Uptown Artist’s Lofts.  The 13.7 million dollar project resulted in 44 live/work units for artists and their families along with ground floor studio and commercial space.  Today, Artspace is thriving and the Warren Building is once again a beautiful and iconic Michigan City landmark.  

Letter of Map Revision for the Cheney Run area.  The city hired Haas & Associates to work in coordination with the Michigan City Sanitary District and the Planning Department to complete extensive, detailed modeling and analysis of the Cheney Run ditch & storm sewer system.  This new modeling has resulted in a much smaller floodplain area.  This new floodplain area has been approved by FEMA, and when it goes into effect on August 4th, 2017, 128 properties will be removed from the current floodplain, saving homeowners thousands of dollars in unnecessary flood insurance premiums.  In 2013, 156 properties were affected.  On August 4th, 2017, only 28 properties will remain affected.

Joe Hawkins, Pullman, Tall Timbers and Gardena Park Improvements.  The Michigan City Parks and Recreation Department had public input meetings and surveys available for the community to participate in prior to any of these projects beginning.  All of these parks received ADA compliant tile surfacing.  In addition, all of the park’s improvements included some, if not all of, the following: new playground equipment and features, new basketball court and hoops, new shelter and benches as well as new walking trails.  

Construction of North Pointe Pavilion.  Located where the outdated and unsightly Parks and Recreation Administrative office building used to stand, North Pointe Pavilion is a beautiful new addition in Washington Park.  This building offers office space for lifeguards, parking staff and this year, is the new distribution center for Washington Park stickers.  Open to the public, this building includes: restrooms, outdoor beach showers, a lower pavilion entertainment area, concession operations and an upper observation deck with stunning views of Lake Michigan.  

Sanitary District and Water Department Infrastructure Projects.  Since 2012, these two departments have combined to do approximately 20 million dollars worth of infrastructure improvements geared to address outdated and deteriorating systems.  

As your Mayor, I have not and will not, waste time and resources on studies and ideas that sit on the shelf.  This administration has taken pride in identifying goals, doing our due diligence as we work towards those goals and then carrying through and executing a plan to make those goals a reality.  Though they are too numerous to list, here are just a few more of our accomplishments since 2012.

•100-foot communication tower erected on City Hall property.  Funded through a Homeland Security Grant, this tower makes our Emergency Operations Center room at City Hall fully operational and allows Emergency Management Officials the ability to communicate with agencies at the county and state levels.  

•Fedder’s Alley and Bismark Hill projects.  Restoration plans which included the removal of invasive species, planting native grasses, improving access to the lake, opening the tree canopy and seeding bare ground where appropriate to stabilize exposed soils while promoting wildlife habitat.  

•State of Indiana’s first ADA compliant kayak launch at Hansen Park.  Known as EZ Launch, the ramp allows equal accessibility to paddling for both able-bodied persons and those with physical limitations.

•Elston Grove Project.  Highlighted by new streetscaping and infrastructure improvements in this historic Michigan City neighborhood.

•Award winning Lake Michigan Gateway Implementation Strategy.  Three to five year action agenda, including capital improvements, infrastructure upgrades and aesthetic enhancements to the downtown and lakefront areas.  As a result of some of these initiated plans, we received the 2016 “Quality of Place Award” from One Region.

•Michigan Boulevard Phase II from Van Spanje Avenue to the Highway 212 interchange.  This project included new stormwater drains, new decorative lighting, new street signals, the removal of medians, and the addition of turn lanes.

•Michigan City Lighthouse.  Our iconic beacon received structural repairs and a complete paint job.

•Demolitions.  Since taking office in 2012, we have taken down over 100 residential and commercial structures which were dilapidated and beyond repair.

•Old Lighthouse Museum repairs.  Reconstruction of the leaking Lantern Room was completed with money from the Lake Michigan Coastal Grant.  The 1858 building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the most important historical structures found anywhere along Lake Michigan.

•Barker Mansion Improvements.  The entire Barker Mansion basement underwent mold and asbestos remediation through Capital Improvement Project funding in 2016. Functional work, classroom, and exhibit space was created in the process.  

•Millions of dollars in private investment.  Just to name a few: the Dunes Plaza project, and three projects currently under construction, the Vermillion Assisted Living Facility, the Cleveland Crossing Michigan City Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep Dealership and the new Franciscan Alliance Hospital.

•The Great Lakes Grand Prix was named “Festival of the Year for 2016.”  This award was given by Midwest Living Magazine in conjunction with the Indiana Tourism Association.  This was the inaugural year for this award and we are very proud to have been selected from all of the wonderful events held across the state.

•Transit Triangle.  Started in 2015, this commuter bus service route between Michigan City, LaPorte and Purdue Northwest offers citizens and students access to locations previously unserved.  Ridership has increased 27% in 2016.

•Citywide Branding Implementation.  The Planning Department and Redevelopment Commission will work with the city’s new Special Events and Marketing Director and Brand Leadership Team (BLT) to begin to prioritize and implement the recommendations of the Branding Master Plan completed by Roger Brooks International in 2016.  One of the first steps will be the unveiling of the new “Create, Play, Repeat” website in early summer of this year.

We lost a great man and an American sports icon in 2016.  Arnold Palmer, “The King,” said of success, "The road to success is always under construction.”  We have mentioned some of our successes, but by no means, are we done.  Michigan City still has much to do and much to accomplish.  As I stand before the members of the city council tonight, I ask you to work with me as we continue to remain vigilant in our obligation to work together, providing great services and improvements that enhance the quality of life for the residents of, and visitors to, our community.  As we move through 2017, I would like to update you on numerous plans and projects that are currently in the process of being executed along with some goals we hope to realize before the end of the year.

•Woodruff Business Park.  The 110-acre Woodruff Business Park, developed in 1999, is now certified AT&T fiber-ready.  This is the first business park in LaPorte County to receive this designation for its high speed internet connectivity.  Woodruff Business Park now has shovel-ready sites and technological infrastructure in place, both of which are necessary components every top level business mandates as they begin to look at the possibility of relocating or expanding their operations.

•Ameriplex Project.  In partnership with Holladay Properties, the Redevelopment Commission will work to develop the first phase of the new Ameriplex Marquette Business Park located near the southwest corner of US Highway 20 and Cleveland Avenue by late 2017.  Ground breaking has recently occurred on the first phase of the project and will include two new Light Industrial flex space buildings of 60,000 and 45,000 square feet which will provide additional jobs and economic development opportunities for the Michigan City community.  In addition, the new Ameriplex Drive will provide access to the west portion of the Ameriplex Marquette development.

•Demolition of former News Dispatch and Police Station Buildings.  Demolition began in December 2016 and was completed in March of this year.  These properties, now owned by the redevelopment commission, will pave the way for a new hotel/mixed use development on the site which will serve as a catalyst for additional investment and tax base in our city’s north end.

•Washington Park Master Plan.  The Planning Department and Redevelopment Commission will work with the Park Board and Parks Department to implement the first phases of the Washington Park Master Plan.  This first phase will include a newly designed traffic circle and new entrance into Washington Park.  The main goal of this 5-7 year plan is to capitalize on the assets of the park by developing additional attractions and upgrading existing facilities while being respectful of the park’s unique natural and historic character.

•WPA Structure Plan.  Three year plan to address the restoration of the historic Works Progress Administration (WPA) structures.  Restoration of the WPA Greenhouse building is planned for this year.  Upon completion, this structure will be used to house equipment utilized by our police, fire and parks departments.  In 2018, in conjunction with the city and the Parks Department, we will identify and secure funding for, and work with, consultants and contractors to restore the historic WPA Engineer’s Castle in the Washington Park Zoo.  And in 2019, in conjunction with the city and Parks Department, we will identify and secure funding for, and work with, consultants and contractors to perform the necessary work needed in the restoration of the historic WPA Observation Tower located in the Washington Park Zoo.

•Financial Software Upgrade and Fiber Optic Ring Completion.  In February of this year, I asked the Michigan City Common Council to consider appropriating $750,000 to update the city’s financial software and to complete the city’s fiber optic ring.  The city’s current software, Fundware, has a sundown date of December 31, 2017.  Because Fundware has a sundown date at the end of this year, for the past few months, the City Controller’s Office has been diligently researching and investigating other financial software options that would meet our needs.  Through that process, the City Controller identified a financial software product, New World Product with Tyler Technologies that has a disaster recovery back-up that is cloud based.  This new software will adequately meet the city’s needs and those of the DLGF.  The result will be better service, more security and more efficient management of both city and public funds.   In addition, the city’s IT department has been instrumental in this process and has advised of the need to complete the city’s fiber optic ring before we could fully implement the new software.  Aside from running the new financial software, the fiber optic ring will be an important investment in future technology and communication for the city.  I am happy to announce that the city council did appropriate the money for these projects and both will be completed this year. 

•South Shore Double Tracking Legislation and Project.  In March, I testified before the Indiana Senate to garner support from state officials in regards to funding the double tracking project.  I am happy to announce that on May 18th of this year, right here in Michigan City, Governor Holcomb signed legislation funding the double tracking of the South Shore line between Gary and Michigan City.  The project will construct improvements to the South Shore system by adding an additional track to increase efficiency in operations, create badly needed redundancy in terms of rail operations in the event of closures or breakdowns, and reduced travel times to around one hour from Michigan City to Chicago’s Millennium Station.  In addition, 125 million dollars of this 290 million dollar project will involve enhancements done completely within the City of Michigan City limits, including a new state of the art, elevated and ADA compliant train station.  The environmental assessment and preliminary engineering is underway for this project.

•2017 Graduates, the First Recipients of the Promise Scholarship.  The Michigan City Promise Scholarship is a program designed to help cultivate economic development, promote families and stabilize our population, while simultaneously bolstering our public schools.  The Promise Scholarship is valued at up to $5000 per year, renewable for four years and will be applied toward tuition and fees at colleges, universities, and post-secondary or vocational schools in the State of Indiana.  The Michigan City High School Senior Class of 2017 will be the first class to be awarded the Promise Scholarship. We are anticipating at least 45 students will apply for the Promise Scholarship this year with numbers increasing each year as the public becomes more aware of this incredible opportunity for our students.

As I finish up here tonight, I’d like to leave you with a quote from author Robert Collier which I consider very pertinent.  “Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day-in and day-out.”  As Mayor, I have led my administration with this philosophy since day one.  I truly believe that the daily victories, no matter their size, add up and lead us to the big Michigan City successes which we have, and which we will continue to see.

God Bless America and God Bless Michigan City, Indiana.