Gregg Calpino, principal with SmithGroup, left, joins architect and designer Paul Codreanu and Planning and Redevelopment Director A.J. Monroe at Portage City Hall to discuss ideas for a new master plan for the city's downtown. Doug Ross, The Times
Gregg Calpino, principal with SmithGroup, left, joins architect and designer Paul Codreanu and Planning and Redevelopment Director A.J. Monroe at Portage City Hall to discuss ideas for a new master plan for the city's downtown. Doug Ross, The Times
PORTAGE — The city’s master plan for its downtown area is in for an overhaul following a recent series of open houses and meetings.

“There’s a lot of excitement about redeveloping Central Avenue,” Gregg Calpino, principal with SmithGroup, said.

The master plan is for the area roughly bounded by Willowcreek Road, Indiana Toll Road, Hamstrom Road and the first row of properties along the south side of Central Avenue.

Getting public input on the plan during the recent charette was useful. “We had a concept of a big public park connecting everything,” Calpino said, but people who offered public comment prefer defined edges to areas.

Smith’s team and Planning and Community Development Director A.J. Monroe set up shop in the new council chambers at City Hall and invited the public to drop by. The collaboration was good for the planners.

“We went for a team walk the last two hours,” Calpino said during the event. “If there’s an idea, let’s run out there” and see what it might look like in real life, knowing the actual site involved, he said.

“We want to see a set a relevant set of projects that are one to five years,” he said, as part of the 20-year plan.

Much has changed since the existing master plan was drafted. The university center that failed to attract regional campuses to hold classes there was repurposed for a new police station. A fire station was built nearby, allowing for City Hall renovations completed this year.

Just this year, the city spent an estimated $1.25 million on improvements downtown. A street at Founders Square was removed to connect the playground and amphitheater without having parents worry about kids dashing across the street that once stood between them. A city parking lot was added nearby, too.

Portage also acquired the former Portage Little League property for youth baseball use.

Lifestyle trends have changed as well.

"Ten years ago, offices meant you were talking about an office building perhaps.”

Now it might be like the Promenade development at Founders Square, with commercial use on the first floor and residential use on higher floors. Instead of an entire building, think of offices in chunks of 100 to 200 square feet, Calpino suggested.

“I think the city’s done a great job of putting the pieces in place for development to occur,” he said. “I think there’s a good skeleton to work from.”

Along Central Avenue, there’s a variety of building styles currently.

“Eclectic is the right word to describe them,” architect and designer Paul Codreanu said.

Planning what styles of buildings could be erected isn’t part of the plan, but placement of the buildings, their orientation on the parcels, is likely to be included. That’s part of designing the overall downtown streetscape.

“I think the process has been going great,” Monroe said. “It’s important to have the public participate.”

SmithGroup is putting the plan together to see what downtown’s future might look like.

The recommendations are expected to be considered by the Redevelopment Commission in November to guide the commission in planning its 2023 budget, Monroe said.
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