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Community Pulls Together To Revitalize Downtown Portland, IN

Grassroots effort brings beautification, funding.

By Livability on May 28, 2022

Elmwood Haynes Mural in Portland, IN
Courtesy of The City of Portland

Growing up, Portland Mayor John Boggs spent many evenings sitting with his grandparents on their front porch a block off Main Street in Portland, Indiana

“We could hear people downtown walking the streets and talking as they were going in and out of shops,” he recalls. “My goal is to have our shop owners extend their hours so we don’t roll up the sidewalks at 5 o’clock, and make it a gathering place where people can come and see each other, do their shopping and feel safe.” 

An impressive grassroots effort is currently transforming downtown Portland into just that. 

Coffee shops, boutiques and other new establishments are opening; facades are being revamped thanks to grant funding; and historic buildings like the John Jay Center for Learning, a former 1926 department store and source of community pride that houses the local community college and a variety of businesses, have been refurbished. 

LED lights brighten the streets, and 42-inch water pipes will soon replace the old 18-inch ones, creating more reliable storm runoff. 

Small touches make a big difference, too. Forty new benches flanked by giant, flower-filled planters entice visitors to sit and people-watch, much like Boggs did when he was a kid. 

Colorful murals depict the history of Portland and hometown heroes like Elwood Haynes, who built one of the first automobiles. Even the trash cans have gotten a facelift. 

Residents are enthusiastically rolling up their sleeves to help. 

“We had a whole weekend where we had tons of people downtown washing windows, which made a big impression,” Boggs says. 

At night, residents socialize at events held in the once-neglected Brick Alley. 

“The more people you drive into downtown, the more businesses you’re going to create,” says Travis Richards, executive director of the Jay County Development Corporation

“Revitalizing the downtown and making it into a destination is one of those things that helps draw people and businesses to Portland.” 

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