Welcome to our second round of our Strongest Town Competition. Valparaiso, IN has a bye this week due to their competitors (Bellingham, WA) stepping out of the contest. But we'd like to show you their photos anyway. Take a look below to see what makes Valparaiso a strong town. 

Valparaiso, IN

Entry submitted by: Tyler Kent, Mayor Jon Costas, Bill Oeding, and Kim Ranger

Central Park Plaza – so many partnerships!
One of our most visible success stories began with an idea. Why not transform a little-used parking lot into a gathering space for our community? Support grew and private donations snowballed as local businesses and families contributed both funding and ideas for our own Central Park Plaza. The park opened in 2011, revealing a performance amphitheater named for the local hospital, green spaces, a splash pad adored by local children and a bronze statue of Valparaiso’s own Orville Redenbacher, which quickly became the most photographed spot in town. The park was so successful that the community clamored for more, and so began the expansion of Central Park Plaza! See the next photo.

Central Park Plaza – the encore (expansion!)
Because Valparaiso is in the heart of the Midwest, we experience a robust four seasons. With the tremendous success of Central Park Plaza, the community wanted MORE. With the help of more ideas and more donations, we were able to expand Central Park Plaza westward and include features that really shine all year round, including a covered pavilion with temperature-controlled ice skating in the winter, complete with skate rentals, a glass-fronted viewing area/warming space, and state-of-the-art lighting and music which create a magical mood. In the summer, the space provides the perfect spot for events, including a twice-weekly farmers’ market that’s part business/part social.  

Both the initial park and its equally loved expansion have gathered the ideas, the funds, and the hearts of the city’s administration, business community, nonprofit organizations, and residents. Central Park Plaza was the site of more than 600 events in 2016, with even more planned for 2017.

ValPLAYso – more than a park
In 2015 the Valparaiso community came together to create a fully accessible playground that became a beloved citywide movement. Children joined with adults for the design stage, more than $1 million in private donations showed support, and more than 3,000 people pitched in for the big build week. So many heroes emerged, including a wheelchair-bound 9-year-old who hosted a lemonade stand to fund the accessible playground and ended up raising more than $6,000 in donations. Generations worked side-by-side, companies donated teams of workers, and nonprofit organizations cooked meals for volunteers, all to produce an unforgettable place that’s more than a park, but a demonstration of Valparaiso’s community spirit.

The ChicaGO DASH Express Bus Service from Valparaiso to Chicago

To better serve its residents and provide a convenient link to nearby Chicago, the City of Valparaiso launched the ChicaGO DASH express bus service to Chicago in 2009. Funded with local, state, and federal funds, along with fare revenue, the “Dash” served 32,260 commuters in its first full year of service (2010). Last year, 61,368 commuters used the Dash, many of them to reach high-paying jobs in Chicago. Today the Dash offers four departures daily from Valparaiso, arriving in the Chicago Loop in just over an hour. The ChicaGO DASH buses are equipped with free Wi-Fi, Satellite TV, Airplane style seating, lavatory, and fully enclosed bike racks.

Due to the popularity of the ChicaGO DASH and the need for more commuter parking, the City of Valparaiso is in the process of developing a Transit Oriented Development (TOD).  The TOD will be located just south of downtown and will include mixed use, high-density residential housing.

 In addition to the ChicaGO Dash, The City of Valparaiso, with a population of just over 32,000 residents, provides its residents with four other modes of public transportation, the V-Line, a fixed route deviated inter-city bus service, Zip car a car share program located at Valparaiso University, a bike share program that will begin on April 19th 2017.  The City of Valparaiso has also installed more than 18 miles of pathways in the last 10 years.  The 18 miles of pathways are cleared of snow during the winter months in Northwest Indiana and provide residents a safe and scenic connection between neighborhoods and attractions.

Valparaiso Engages! The ValpoNEXT Visioning Project
Several years ago, the City of Valparaiso launched a visioning project designed to create a blueprint for the city’s next two to three decades. The community was invited to participate in the 15-month public engagement process, which included 5 large public meeting events, 6 small group meetings, online discussion, and an 11-day road show. The community responded enthusiastically, with more than 880 participants and 2,090 pieces of input. The result is a comprehensive vision plan, adopted Dec. 8, 2014. Citizen ideas became 43 dynamic action items in the vision plan for coming decades. Because the ideas came from the community, support has been strong and roughly 14 of the action items are already underway, with plans to move ahead with additional items on the horizon for coming years.

Come back next week to vote for Valparaiso in the third round of our contest.