Plans to renovate and expand the Memorial Opera House are opposed by a Porter County commissioner. The $6.5 million project would replace the crumbling bricks and windows of the Opera House and the former sheriff’s residence, and build a connection between the two. A proposal to use US federal bailout funds to pay for it has drawn backlash from residents. Now some county officials want to use the foundation’s money, generated from interest earned on proceeds from the sale of the hospital.
But Commissioner Jim Biggs says it’s irresponsible. “I know we have at least $2 million under water in our ability to maintain our county roads. I know we have millions of dollars in the red in our ability to address stormwater issues that should be resolved as soon as possible. I know that we do not have or have not identified a funding source, a permanent funding source, for our ambulance services here in Porter County,” said Biggs during a lengthy discussion during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s commissioners’ meeting.
He said Porter County should stay out of the theater business and instead focus on basic government services. “It’s the wrong project at the wrong time using the wrong funds,” Biggs added.
But others feel that the Opera House has greater benefits as a community gathering space. And some, like county council member Sylvia Graham, believe the renovation is the logical next step in the county’s effort to modernize its facilities.
“These are the last things in a general maintenance agreement that we have with County Buildings, and I don’t know why it’s sparking such anger,” Graham said.
Others noted that local businesses benefit from out-of-town visitors, and Heather Clark said that was one of the reasons she moved to Porter County. “We love Valparaiso. We loved Porter County. And we used to come here, and when we were looking to move 10 years ago, it seemed like a great place. And we knew that because of Opera.
Still, many believed the opera house could be sustained, without a multi-million dollar upgrade. Dawn Miller, one of the renovation’s most vocal critics, called it an unnecessary luxury at a time when residents are struggling with inflation.
“People in the community are suffering, okay? It’s choosing the essence. It’s choosing the food. Trust me. I’m there, I’ve been there, okay? And I think just that right now is not the time,” Miller told the commissioners. .
No formal action was contemplated at Tuesday’s meeting of commissioners.