BY RADONNA FIORINI
While much of life slowed or was outright canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, city improvement and development projects continued, and many will come to fruition in 2021. From penguins to new planned neighborhoods, here’s a peek at what’s coming for our communities.
Lafayette’s Columbian Park continues to be a beehive of activity with new attractions slated to open this spring and summer.
The recently constructed $20 million Loeb Stadium, located at the corner of Main and Wallace streets, will be dedicated at the end of January, says Lafayette Parks and Recreation Marketing Manager Samantha Haville. Some COVID-related delays pushed the project’s completion back a bit, but everything should be ready for Lafayette Jefferson High School’s baseball home opener in the spring.
The original Loeb Stadium, built in the 1940s of concrete, was long the site for Lafayette Jeff’s home games, the Colt World Series, and more recently the summer collegiate baseball team, the Lafayette Aviators, part of the West Division of the Prospect League. The new brick stadium, which will seat 2,600 people when suites and lawn seating opens later this year, is also designed as a multi-use space where concerts and family movie nights will be planned.
“We hope to make a big splash for the first Jeff home game and for the Aviators’ opener in early summer,” says Haville. “And we’re opening it up to community partnerships for a wide variety of events.”
The newest additions to the Columbian Park Zoo are scheduled to arrive before the zoo opens this spring. Nine African penguins will be shipped from California to inhabit the penguin house constructed in 2020. Their arrival was delayed because of travel restrictions, but the hope is that these warm-weather birds will feel at home and be ready for visitors by late April.
Another exciting addition, an updated blast from the past, will be a new carousel. Construction on a permanent building to house this family favorite has begun, located between the zoo and Tropicanoe Cove water park. The carousel will feature hand-carved and painted wooden animals that represent some of those found in the zoo, along with exotic species and traditional horses. Haville says no date has been set for the opening of this much-loved ride.
While some of these new projects will not be fully used until the pandemic is under control, several planned features in Columbian Park will be open for individual use this summer.
Phase three of the Memorial Island project is proceeding apace. A new amphitheater with upgraded sound system is planned. The lagoon was drained last year, and sea walls are being rebuilt. Lots of new elements are being added to make the area accessible for folks with disabilities including boardwalks, new bridges, and ADA fishing nodes that jut out into the lagoon and accommodate a wheelchair, Haville says. The parks department is working with Purdue University and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to choose fish that will be stocked in the refilled lagoon this summer.
“We are most excited about the fact that paddle boats are coming back!” Haville says. “The boats will be located on the south side of the lagoon near the train depot. We hope to have them available
Cason Family Park
Keeping with the theme of public parks and outdoor spaces, West Lafayette has several projects in the works, says Erin Easter, director of development for the city.
Cason Family Park is a planned 14-acre prairie-style space being developed in two phases. The park, located on acreage donated by local farmer Lynn Cason at Cumberland Avenue and U.S. 231, is already home to the historic, one-room Morris Schoolhouse. Built in 1879, the school was moved to the property in 2017 and restored so it can be used for educational programs.
Construction on other park elements is slated to begin this year with completion set for 2022. Surrounding the schoolhouse will be outdoor play places, lawns and waterways. There will be picnic pavilions, public restrooms and several trails throughout the acreage.
“This will be a really fun, whimsical place to play that won’t feel forced,” Easter says. “There will be natural playgrounds with climbing rocks, wooden elements and rest areas.”
For bikers and walkers in West Lafayette, a planned 10-foot-wide pathway project will roll out this year. The path will run along Salisbury Street from Kalberer Road to Grant Street and end at Northwestern Avenue. The project will include shifting some traffic lanes and burying utilities, says Easter. Lighting and other amenities will be added during this two-year project, which will provide a safer way for pedestrians to move from the northern side of the city to the Purdue campus.
And the pathway will lead directly to the new Wellness Center just completed in Cumberland Park. This 73,000-square-foot facility houses a pool, gym, walking track, weight equipment and spaces for health classes, Easter says.
“A lot of our parks programming was put on pause in 2020,” she says. “It was difficult not to do those things last year, but we’ll have a beautiful new home (for those programs) when the time is right.” (See story on Page 22)
A New City Hall in West Lafayette
While anticipating summer activities, Easter and other city employees are spending these colder months settling into newly renovated office space at the Sonya L. Marjerum City Hall, formerly the Morton Community Center. Remodeling of the historic building began in 2019 and was largely completed in December when city workers began moving in.
The city offices have moved around for several years, but the more than $15 million renovations should allow the building on Chauncey Avenue to be a permanent home, says Easter. The name of the building was changed to honor the late Sonya Marjerum who served as West Lafayette mayor for 24 years.
“We moved into the building exactly two years to the date that construction began,” she says. “There are so many advantages to this space now. It’s ADA compliant and accessible. Four-fifths of the building space will be focused on parks or city programming and available to the community. And the new City Council chambers will serve as a true home for (the council’s) work. Before there was a sense of impermanence, but we hope this will be our final and forever home.”
City Hall’s first floor now has community space including two dance studios that can also host art programming and other activities. The first floor also houses the City Council chambers and other meeting space. The second floor is home to city staff including the mayor’s office, parks department, clerk’s office and other departments. A customer service desk is centrally located so visitors can easily get the help they need, Easter notes.
And additional community projects are planned between City Hall and the West Lafayette Public Library. Three public spaces will be added that include art pieces that also can serve as road barriers to temporarily block streets for festivals and large gatherings.
Lafayette also is completing some downtown projects and making plans for a new 70,000-square-foot public safety building and parking garage. The first public hearing concerning the facility design was held December 16, and the city hopes to begin construction this year with completion planned in 2023, says Lafayette Economic Development Director Dennis Carson.
The facility, which will be on property just east of City Hall at Sixth and Columbia streets, will house the police department and provide parking for city employees plus extra public parking spaces. The multi-story building will include open plazas for public use and be an asset to downtown living, Carson says.
Several Lafayette streetscape projects wrapped up in 2020 that have made downtown more pedestrian friendly and encouraged both investors and shoppers to see the businesses along Main Street as desired destinations. Paying attention to historic preservation and making the area more consumer friendly has paid off.
“We’ve had a lot of positive feedback and people say being downtown is now a better experience, in a safer environment that is more interactive,” says Carson. “We’ve encouraged outdoor dining, which has been so important during the pandemic, and we have more retail than we’ve had in decades.”
While the growth of brick and mortar stores is a surprise in this age of on-line shopping, Carson says there are more clothing and other retail stores downtown than have been seen in years. That trend shows that the investment in improving sidewalks, installing public art, and focusing on local businesses has paid off as people feel more comfortable lingering and shopping downtown.
“We’re very excited about it,” he says. “It’s a testament that people like to experience things (in person). We know it’s been challenging for some of these shops but we think they’ll hold up and do really well when things open up again.”
Perhaps the biggest project coming to Tippecanoe County is back across the river on the west side of the Purdue campus. As part of the Discovery Park District, the city of West Lafayette, Purdue Research Foundation and Old Town Design Group from Indianapolis have launched a planned housing development called Provenance.
Work has begun on apartments at the southwest corner of State Street and Airport Road to be followed by condominiums, town homes and single family homes, says West Lafayette’s Easter, adding that commercial and retail spaces are also part of the mix.
According to information from Old Town Design Group, this multiphase project will eventually include walking paths that connect to nearby parks, golf courses, shops and restaurants. The development includes lots for 56 single-family homes and 30 townhomes.
So grab your mask and take a drive around our communities to see the changes coming. While it feels as if our lives are shrinking, there are brighter days ahead with much to celebrate. ★