Passengers exit the Chicago Dash bus in Valparaiso

Passengers exit the Chicago Dash bus from Chicago at the Valparaiso stop in this Times file photo. The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority has committed funds to assist Valparaiso in expanding the service.

Times file photo

MERRILLVILLE — The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority has hired the law firm Barnes & Thornburg to create a report detailing the work necessary to perform a market analysis and feasibility study for a new convention center in Lake County.

At its Thursday meeting, the RDA's Board of Directors also renewed a grant to assist in the realignment of U.S. 12 in the Miller neighborhood of Gary, and committed funds to Valparaiso for expansion of its Chicago Dash bus service.

The Barnes & Thornburg work, at an amount not to exceed $25,000, would essentially develop a document that would be sent to firms with the ability to do a full market study regarding the possibility of building a convention center.

"They'll develop a scope-of-work to use for an RFP or RFQ to do a full-blown market study," RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna said, referring to a request for proposals and request for qualifications.

South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority President and CEO Speros Batistatos has renewed his argument for a new convention center in light of the pending closure of the Radisson Hotel at Star Plaza, in Merrillville.

He has suggested funding the project, and other tourism-related projects, with a 3 percent food and beverage tax. The Lake County Council asked the RDA earlier this year to perform a feasibility study.

Hanna said Barnes & Thornburg's role in the project would help ensure an objective, focused market study.

"We'll get a much tighter response," from companies offering to perform the full study, Hanna said. "If you don't do this as a forerunner, these projects can continue to grow."

He said the law firm's work will be complete early next year, after which a local committee can be formed to hire a consultant for the market study. 

Miller road project

The RDA committed $4.5 million to the project to realign the intersection of U.S. 12 and 20 in Gary's Miller neighborhood. The road project, to be done by the Indiana Department of Transportation, will shift the merger of those two roads eastward to open space for development around the South Shore commuter rail station.

The South Shore plans to upgrade the station and realign its tracks as part of its Double Track NWI project, which would speed the commute to Chicago by adding a second set of tracks between Gary and Michigan City.

The RDA's role will be to provide aesthetic and pedestrian-friendly components to the project, Hanna said, in an effort to enhance the transit-oriented development hoped for in the area.

Hanna and engineer Chris Murphy of American Structurepoint, which is performing the engineering for INDOT, said the project will move forward independently of the Double Track NWI project, which is expected to be under review by the federal government late next year, assuming local funding is secured.

ChicaGo Dash

The RDA committed to just over $6.8 million to assist Valparaiso with expansion of the ChicaGo Dash bus service, which offers daily service to Chicago for commuters.

The money will help buy two new buses, and will assist in creation of an expanded parking lot and bus depot. The current lot has reached capacity, Hanna said. The city hopes to finish the project by summer 2019.

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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.