A variety of improvements are planned for Portland in 2018.
Mayor Randy Geesaman detailed the city’s plans for improvements to the city’s wastewater treatment plant, roads and downtown revitalization at his annual State of the City address Tuesday at the Jay County Chamber of Commerce networking luncheon at Jay County Hospital.
The wastewater treatment plant work, which will begin in a few weeks, will cost $2.9 million and be completed in 15 to 18 months. Two new clarifiers will be installed and the plant will be converted to an aeration system, which will help biodegrade waste.
Another area of the the city that will receive attention is Main Street. In 2017, old water lines from before 1900 that ran on Main Street from Charles Street to Meridian Street were replaced. There is currently patchwork on the road, but Geesaman said it is a top priority for repaving
Also on the agenda is an increased effort to revitalize the city, including the downtown area. Portland is doubling down on blighted commercial and residential properties in the coming year, Geesaman said, working to clean them up and make them suitable for use again. The city is also working on its downtown redevelopment plan, including plans for streetscaping in the downtown area.
“We’re excited that in 2018 you’ll see a lot of different things happening in the downtown area as we put an action plan together,” Geesaman said.
Part of revitalizing the area is attracting new businesses. One of the roadblocks Portland faces is its size, Geesaman said; most businesses are looking for communities of around 40,000 people, while Jay County only has about 21,000 residents.
The mayor acknowledged that residents may be disheartened over the closings of Marsh Supermarket in May and Ponderosa Steakhouse in October. He said finding replacements is a priority.
“This is a major obstacle that we have to go over … We’ve actually been told in the grocery store business, it’s like 2- to 3-percent margin is all they’re working on,” Geesaman said. “It’s going to take some time, I will say that we feel really strongly that we have a good opportunity for that. … We do have some people working on it, we know that the grocery store is our No. 1 priority.”
While looking to the future, Geesaman also showcased the city’s achievements in 2017.
Four local industries made about $32 million in investments in 2017, Geesaman reported. FCC (Indiana) invested $26 million in new equipment and also bought and renovated a building; Tyson Mexican Original invested $4 million in equipment; W&M Manufacturing added 41,000 square feet, investing $1.75 million along with $240,000 in equipment investment; and Dayton Progress purchased $206,000 in new equipment.
Another highlight of 2017, he said, was continued work on flood mitigation. County commissioners and the City of Portland are working with the Army Corps of Engineers to make a plan to decrease flooding from the Salamonie River. Portland was also one of 20 cities in Indiana to implement a flood action plan, which details guidelines and action plans for how to handle different types of flood events.
The city is also working on an inventory to help prioritize infrastructure projects. Its streets’ condition are rated from one to 10, the sewers have been mapped and mapping of the water lines and hydrants is in progress. With a report of all three in place, Geesaman said it will be easier to figure out which projects are possible for the city and how to get funding for them.
It’s up to Portland residents to keep the momentum going on revitalization, Geesaman told the crowd of city and county employees and local business representatives.
“I believe that some of the pieces of the puzzle, whether it’s downtown, or the flooding, or the eyesores, or the deterioration of downtown, are starting to come in place with an overall comprehensive improvement and positive things that’s happened in our community,” Geesaman said. “We just have to continue to let patience and persistence prevail, and in 2018 and 2019 and beyond you’ll see the fruits of some of the things that we’ve been working on behind the scenes for quite some time.”