Valpo residents vote on city’s priorities
By James D. Wolf Jr. Post-Tribune correspondent May 28, 2014 9:32PM
Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas addresses a session of ValpoNext on Wednesday. | James D. Wolf Jr./for Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 30, 2014 12:57PM
VALPARAISO — The 25 questions presented Wednesday were the summation of more than 1,200 ideas given at the three February “Big Idea” community meetings, and residents further focused them by voting with handheld devices.
It was the latest stage in the ValpoNext program, the city’s initiative to get input from residents on where they want the city to go over the next 20 to 30 years.
“It’s important to hear from our constituents about what’s important to them,” Mayor Jon Costas said before the voting began.
His administration has addressed all the goals it had by completing them or having them on the drawing board, and ValpoNext will not only give his administration but future administrations guidance, Costas said.
People voted that they preferred workforce development as a priority for attracting people and wanted a connected community and neighborhoods that are environmentally concerned.
Regarding how they would describe Valparaiso, 48 percent said it was dynamic, and 42 said a perfect hometown. As for the future, 53 percent said they want the city to be known as dynamic and 21 chose perfect hometown, but 11 percent said they’d like to see a creative oasis.
For future commerce, 67 percent chose a range of special restaurants, retail and cultural businesses, and 21 percent chose a mecca for small mom-and-pop and unique shops. Having the largest number of corporate headquarters outside Chicago and having national chains each got 6 percent.
The arts didn’t fair well in most votes, but regarding the downtown, people voted 34 percent for an arts district and 36 percent for incentives to preserve and redevelop old neighborhoods, while only 15 percent wanted more downtown housing.
For education priorities, 55 percent of the people chose excellent teachers, and 21 percent chose career and technical education.
For school building priorities, 58 chose upgrading neighborhood elementary schools, 20 percent voted for new buildings, and 17 percent chose upgrading the technical infrastructure in general.
Regarding education leadership, 33 percent chose visionary leaders with strategic plans, 26 percent chose an elected school board, 23 percent chose increasing school revenue through multiple ways, and 19 favored improved communication.
The top economic priority was a passenger rail line (46 percent), followed by 36 percent investing in emerging technologies.
After the voting, people worked at tables to define their top three priorities from the voting. The city and its consultant, Planning Next, will process Wednesday’s information and have a September open house. They will also keep all 1,200 plus pieces of information received, and people can still weigh in at valponext.org.
Jamie Greene of Planning Next said the level of interest in Valparaiso’s future, with more than 2,900 likes on Facebook for ValpoNext and more than 200 turning out Wednesday, is unprecedented for a city of Valparaiso’s size.