ST. JOHN | St. John officials weighed the town's steady residential growth and key location at a major crossroads into a decision this year to take the next step in promoting economic development.
"Over the last couple of years we've been really taking a proactive approach to commercial marketing," Town Manager Steve Kil said.
As a next step, the town will join a growing contingent of area communities to send representatives to an annual gathering of more than 1,000 retailers May 18 to 20 at the International Council of Shopping Centers Global Retail Real Estate Convention in Las Vegas.
A demographic analysis ordered earlier this year by the Town Council will be part of the town's presentation, along with highlights of available locations along the U.S. 231 and U.S. 41 corridor, Kil said.
"With the Metrostudy (demographic) analysis, our hopes are to go to the shopping center convention and attract retail and restaurants. There are specific sites we've picked for development and redevelopment," said Kil, who plans to attend along with Town Council President Michael Forbes and a member of the Economic Development Commission.
The yearly gathering for the shopping center industry provides networking, deal making and educational opportunities for retail real estate professionals from around the world, according to the event website. This year's event is expecting some 33,000 attendees, including nearly 1,100 exhibiting companies.
The event will mark a return trip for representatives from Hammond, Portage and Crown Point.
Portage officials plan to focus on attracting retail and restaurant development to the city to add to its strong industrial base, said Jim Fitzer, executive director of the Portage Economic Development Corp., who is attending with Mayor James Snyder for second year.
"We've had a lot of nice industrial growth, and that excites retailers because it increases traffic volume," Fitzer said.
An office supply store will be one of the retail specialties in the city's sights at the convention, Fitzer said. The city was blessed with the arrival of a Bass Pro Shops store a few years ago, he said.
The goal for Hammond officials is to meet with some of the larger retailers, said Phil Taillon, executive director of the city's Planning and Development Department.
"We have scheduled a minimum of five appointments while we're there," Taillon said. "Our goal is to sit down and talk about the benefits of opening up in Hammond."
Three major developments off of Interstate 80/94 will be highlighted as potential locations, as well as the Woodmar Mall area, Taillon said.
"And we're always looking for new restaurants. We have great restaurants in Hammond, but we're always looking for new ones."
Crown Point Mayor David Uran, who initiated his city's attendance at the event seven years ago, said he and several city representatives plan a return trip this year.
As in past years, the city's multimillion dollar sports complex, its access to Interstate 65 interchanges at 109th Avenue and U.S. 231, along with the downtown and a planned new trolley system, will be spotlighted, Uran said.
For the first time, owners of prime property at the 109th Avenue interchange will attend, Uran said.
"The city is almost like a matchmaker trying to find prospective opportunities and match them up with the owner of a property," he said.