Indiana | 1999 Great American Main Street Award® Winner | Posted: 10/18/2008
Lafayette, Ind., (pop. 46,000) is rapidly gaining a reputation as the jewel of the state’s crown. Established as a center of Wabash River commerce in 1825, the city has grown into a regional center. Today, as the Tippecanoe County seat, Lafayette is the regional center for industry, commerce, retail, agriculture, finance, education, religion, recreation, “Big Ten” sports, and health care. The campus of Purdue University across the river in West Lafayette, with a local enrollment of 36,000 students, is a major community attraction.
Since its early river days, Lafayette’s downtown has retained a reputation as the center for government, finance, and commerce. Although suburban shopping malls have depleted much of downtown’s retail facilities, there is still a sizable number of locally owned, thriving niche retailers, complemented by a diverse selection of casual and formal dining establishments that attract pedestrian and vehicular traffic to the center city.
Over the years, much effort has been expended to keep Lafayette’s downtown attractive and user friendly. Centered by a totally restored, one-square-block, 1884 Tippecanoe County Courthouse, the downtown has seen more than 90 building renovations in recent years. Fifty of these projects were funded by private investment, and 43 were completed through the city’s facade program.
A massive $180-million downtown improvement program has moved the city’s extensive railroad lines out of the heart of the city into a controlled access corridor along the Wabash River, thereby ridding the community of more than 40 at-grade rail tracks. This major project also created a new downtown focal point — a large public plaza with a restored train depot that serves as a community meeting facility and a transportation hub for Amtrak, as well as local and commuter buses.
Downtown boasts a block-long farmers market that features home-grown produce during temperate months, an excellent regional library, a renovated municipal building, a restored performing arts theater, several museums, headquarters of several large financial institutions, and a hotel that has been converted into an apartment complex.