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Angola sees big things for park

Site at I-69, US 20 will have groundbreaking Tuesday

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

Ken Wilson has visions of commerce: more sit-down restaurants and even a hotel at Interstate 69 and U.S. 20 in Angola.

On Tuesday, he'll join local officials for a groundbreaking for Angola Innovation Park, which is expected to accelerate economic development at that intersection.

The Innovation Park is a 50-acre project with about $4 million, including money from the state's Community Crossings Grant program, committed to the development.

Wilson is president and owner of JICI Inc., a Steuben County construction firm. He is also a partner in Angola First Development, which owns most of the land that will become the Innovation Park and also about another 50 acres in that area.

“I would expect some buildings to start to be constructed next spring,” Wilson said last week, indicating developers hope to have some tenants committed by year's end.

Angola First is investing $1 million into Innovation Park. Speedway LLC is investing $1 million and so is the city of Angola, said Vivian Likes, director of Angola's Economic Development and Planning Department. Speedway has a gas station at the intersection. Up to $1 million from the state Community Crossings grant will help cover the cost of two roads in Innovation Park. 

Likes said developers began looking at how to better use the property at I-69 and U.S. 20 before the 2008 recession stalled many economic projects. About four years ago, a Love Travel Plaza was built on the southwest side of that intersection and that stirred other interest. She credits Mayor Richard Hickman and other local leaders with taking the initiative to develop a long-range, strategic plan.

“You know how you hear the old adage that cities and towns have strategic plans and they sit on the shelf? Well,” Likes said, “Angola does not do that.”

The Innovation Park will have all the necessary elements, including streets, sewer, water and broadband, to attract tenants, Hickman said. 

“The interest out there has really increased tremendously with us getting this (state) grant,” he said, “and I expect to see things happen sooner rather than later.”

Along with additional service-oriented business, Wilson and others envision research and development firms and light manufacturing. The companies wouldn't necessarily be startups, Wilson said, but midsize operations ready to expand.

An industrial park was included in plans Angola and Fremont officials presented last year in the America's Best Communities competition, which offered a first-place prize of $3 million. Nearly 400 communities nationwide entered the competition, which was sponsored by companies including Frontier Communications and Dish Network to spur revitalization in small and rural areas. Angola was one of 15 finalists in the competition but was eliminated after a presentation before judges in Durham, North Carolina.

Likes said Angola hopes to have a Certified Technology Park, which requires submitting an application to the state. The Innovation Park would also have an educational component. Some discussions have already been held with Trine University.

“We talk to Trine all the time, and Trine is one of the biggest assets we have in Steuben County, northeast Indiana,” Likes said.

The Community Revitalization Plan Angola-Fremont submitted for the America's Best Communities entry focused on several economic and community development projects, including the I-69 and U.S. 20 innovation center/technology park. An enterprise center developed with the Steuben County Economic Development Corp. was also part of the plan.

“Even though we didn't win, we did win in that we've already accomplished two things that were in our plan,” Likes said.