GARY | With a brisk wind blowing Friday off Lake Michigan, city and region leaders celebrated the start of the Marquette Park Lakefront East Project with a ceremonial groundbreaking at the Father Jacques Marquette statue.
Mayor Rudy Clay presided over the start of the park restoration made possible by a $28 million grant from the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority.
"Today we are celebrating all our efforts and the return of Gary to the gateway of Lake Michigan," Clay said of the planning that began three years ago.
The Marquette Park master plan calls for restoration of the 241-acre park's natural areas, preservation of the cultural resources and protection of the lakefront dunes and beach for future generations.
Marquette Park's pavilion, built in 1921 and designed by George W. Maher, will "be restored to its former glory," Clay said.
Other parts of the project will include renovations to the Gary Bathing Beach Aquatorium, adding a children's playground, restoring the Father Marquette statue and landscaping at the park's entrance, improving Lake Street Beach and restoring the lagoon.
The unique ecosystem of the park's oak savannah also will be restored, said Christopher Meyer, director of the Gary Planning Department.
RDA Executive Director Bill Hanna said the project fits well into the authority's mission of tying communities together.
The Marquette Park restoration "will provide a sense of community and spark off economic development," Hanna said. "It will create an economic boom nearby and bring people to this important piece of shoreline."
Chicago-based Hitchcock Design Group provided the planning, landscape architecture and program management for the master plan.
Local companies on that project team include BauerLatoza Studio and Integrated Environmental Solutions, both of Gary; Advance Construction Services, of Gary and Merrillville; and DLZ of Hammond and Burns Harbor.
The Skillman Corp., of Merrillville, will provide construction management.
Contracts for the project will be awarded at 10 a.m. Wednesday during the Gary Board of Public Works meeting, Meyer said. Work is expected to run into early 2012, "contingent upon site conditions and weather," Meyer said.
"That this is happening under my watch is really meaningful for me. It also helps the legacy," Clay said following the ceremony. "This isn't just for Gary. This is for all of Northwest Indiana and the Chicago area."