Marina work launches in East Chicago (copy)

East Chicago city officials and others pose for photographs during a groundbreaking ceremony in 2016 for an early phase of East Chicago's Waterfront Revitalization Initiative.

Times file photo

MERRILLVILLE — The next phase of East Chicago's Waterfront Revitalization Initiative will begin soon, pending approval of an $8.5 million grant from the Regional Development Authority.

The RDA board received East Chicago's grant request for the project's third phase on Thursday. The board also received a request for a $100,000 grant from Hammond, to assist in changes to its revitalization project in the area near the proposed South Shore Line Gateway Station.

The East Chicago effort will include reconstruction of Guthrie Street, a main thoroughfare bringing people to the lakeshore area, and transformation of the old Fitzsimmons retail property to create 19,000 square feet of new residential and commercial space.

The first phase of the Waterfront Revitalization Initiative included a $17 million RDA grant approved in 2015. The project saw improvements at Jeorse Park Beach and the East Chicago Marina, as well as road work and demolition of vacant buildings.

The second phase, aided by a $12.9 million RDA grant approved in 2016, included more marina improvements, as well as reconstruction of ground routes to the harbor and bridge, ramp and intersection upgrades.

"They've done some phenomenal things in that area," RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna said.

RDA board representative Milton Reed, representing East Chicago, said the upgrades have been attracting visitors to the lakeshore and have leveraged private investment. He said the city will be letting contracts for the upcoming projects this month.

The Hammond grant will help pay the city's $125,000 portion of a $622,318 Indiana Department of Transportation project to clear 27 properties to allow direct access to the South Shore Line's proposed station

The Gateway station would link the proposed West Lake Corridor to the existing South Shore. The demolition work is included in the city's ongoing Chicago Street project.

"This is the beginning of a partnership in a material way to develop TOD around the Gateway station," Hanna said. "You want to have plenty of ways to get in and out of that area."

The RDA board will take final action on the grant requests at an upcoming meeting.

Convention center study

RDA Chief Operating Office Sherri Ziller said interviews with more than 100 local stakeholders regarding the potential for a convention center in Northwest Indiana are nearing completion. The RDA is funding a study of the viability of a convention center, its potential location and its costs and benefits.

A second phase will include a funding analysis, Ziller said. The full study, being conducted by the consulting firm CSL, should be completed by May.

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Transportation reporter

Andrew covers transportation, real estate, casinos and other topics for The Times business section. A Crown Point native, he joined The Times in 2014, and has more than 15 years experience as a reporter and editor at Region newspapers.