Phil Wieland, Times of Northwest Indiana
VALPARAISO | Residents and visitors praise Valparaiso for providing a multitude of things to see and do, and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce agrees. The chamber selected the city as its 2009 Community of the Year.
Sharon and Dominic Lentini, of Hobart, took advantage of the sunny weather last week to stroll the downtown, look at the shops and have lunch. They have visited downtown restaurants in the past.
"It's a nice, clean town with friendly people," Dominic Lentini said.
"I like to look around and walk around the downtown," Sharon Lentini said.
Pat Bodensteiner lives near the downtown and likes the size of the city and the restaurants.
"It was a great place to raise our children," Bodensteiner said. "I like to walk to the downtown, and I like the library downtown. It all works very nicely. Our children and grandchildren have had good experiences with the school system.
"I love the new YMCA. It's a great asset to the community. We've had a tremendous increase in membership, and that speaks to meeting the needs of families."
The only criticism she had is the lack of diversity in the population, but she said, "We are getting there, and we certainly are a far cry from where we started out when we moved here." She is a YMCA board member, and her husband, Ivan Bodensteiner, is chairman of the city's Human Relations Council.
Kevin Reader and Banita McCarn are students from the University of Chicago and were among a group of university students in Valparaiso doing a marketing study of the city. Reader cited the city's closeness to the Indiana Dunes and to Valparaiso University as features that can attract people to Valparaiso.
"It's a quaint town with a nice town square," Reader said. "It doesn't feel like a big chain store. They have lots of great local events, and it's very pedestrian friendly."
McCarn agreed, calling the downtown "very walkable" and pointing out the taxes are so much lower than in a big city such as Chicago.
All of the improvements made to the downtown and the North Calumet corridor were among the reasons Jane Kasl was enthusiastic about coming to the city with friends.
"They've done a wonderful job with everything," Kasl said. "I love the sidewalks and the lighting. The university has done a wonderful job. What they've done with the north end of town. It's such a pleasure to go up to the Y. You can drive up there easily now. The sidewalks are so important because a lot of people are without cars and need places to walk."
Although she lives in Jackson Township now, Kasl said she lived in the city starting in 1969 and has seen the much-needed improvements made in the last few years.
"I thoroughly enjoy coming to town and shopping," she said. "I hope to see more improvements."