Thornton looks back at busy 2017, forward to what’s to come

Published 10:08 pm Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The LaGrange City Council held its first meeting of the year on Tuesday, and according to LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton, there is plenty to be excited about in the upcoming year.

According to Thornton, large projects like Great Wolf Resort and The Thread will play a major role in the city’s growth and development in the future, but he was excited about various small projects as well.

“I’m very excited about Great Wolf opening,” Thornton said. “I think that anybody who has been down to Exit 13 and sees the scale of that construction project is impressed by just the magnitude of the project, but what is most exciting is the additional tourism traffic and revenue that it will bring to our community. I look forward to some announcements soon about other developments in the area.”

Thornton said that even he does not know what businesses will come to the area as a result of the project.

“I think we will continue to see new businesses locating in our area, and I also hope that in 2018, we will see some new housing developments get off the ground because we do need to increase our housing stock in the community,” Thornton said.

In the last year, that growth has included the addition of major retailers — Dunham’s Sports and Hobby Lobby — at the LaGrange Mall. A wide variety of smaller businesses also opened, and industrial projects like Sentury Tire and Jindal Films are planned for the area.

“We are doing extraordinarily well on economic development and business recruitment,” Thornton said. “I think 2017 just continued a multi-year pattern where we’ve seen over the last two or three years that LaGrange really is a place where people want to do business. I am very excited about the new announcements, but also the expansions that are taking place. I think that will continue into the coming year.”

Businesses like Duracell and Interface held groundbreakings on new sections last year that will expand their capabilities and their number of employees. This growth has been praised by Thornton among others, but at the same time, it can create other challenges.

“We will have to work on our infrastructure,” Thornton said.  “We’ll have to make sure that it remains second to none in terms of quality. We’ll also continue to build out our transportation network. We have some new projects such as Tom Hall Parkway and Hills & Dales Farm Road coming online. We are very excited that the Greenville Street Bridge is about to be replaced, and it looks like Hamilton Road may actually happen after decades of waiting.”

Thornton hopes to face challenges like transportation and housing head on.

“Knowing that challenges will come from growth, I’m not willing to say no to the growth,” Thornton said. “Instead, my attitude is to embrace the growth and to tackle the challenges head on. That is what we’ll be doing in the years to come.”

For him, all the pieces work together to form a cohesive plan for future projects.

“I think probably the challenge will be managing the demands on our infrastructure and transportation system that new growth is going to present, but I have full confidence in the staff of the city to be able to manage that without difficulty,” Thornton said. “I do think that our long-term challenge for our community is residential growth. We need more residential growth, and I think that the amenities that the city is building such as Sweetland and The Thread and the new parks, coupled with the retail and business development that the private industry is bringing at the mall and downtown and at Great Wolf — we are really about to become a very attractive place for people to want to move to. When you layer on top West Point Lake and the other natural amenities in our community, I think it really is a very special place.”

Additionally, Thornton said he is pleased by the progress that the LaGrange Police Department has made in reducing violent crime in the city.

“I’m very pleased at the reduction in violent crime that we’ve had in the city in the past year,” Thornton said. “I think that is attributable to the investments that we’ve made in the police department — both in personnel and equipment — and the aggressive prosecution that we’ve engaged in, and I look for that to continue as well into the coming year.”