PUC students recommend ways to strengthen downtown Hammond

2013-05-18T16:58:00Z 2013-05-18T23:10:11Z PUC students recommend ways to strengthen downtown Hammond Chelsea Schneider Kirk chelsea.schneider@nwi.com, (219) 933-3241 nwitimes.com

HAMMOND | Downtown Hammond is a key focus as Purdue University Calumet and the city work to forge a stronger relationship, a top university official said.

Chancellor Thomas Keon said the university is hoping to do more with the Hammond INnovation Center, a small business incubator in downtown Hammond, and its new partnership with the Towle Theater.

Purdue Calumet also will hold two upcoming graduation ceremonies in December and next May at the Hammond Civic Center, Keon said.

“I believe very strongly that because we live in Hammond that we need to be a part of Hammond,” Keon said. “Too often universities become a little island or oasis that is surrounded by something they don't want to be a part of or don't want people to think they are a part of.

"Truly I believe it's important for us to immerse ourselves into Hammond deeply.”

Keon's comments were a prelude to a business plan unveiled by a group of students at the college last week. Much of the plan focused on the Towle Theater and how to increase awareness of its shows and programs among the college's students.

One recommendation would increase the Towle's ticket price by $3 to $20 to cover the cost of free merchandise to advertise the theater. Other recommendations were to hold a farmers market in the vacant portion of the Towle and have bus transportation between Purdue Calumet and downtown when shows and other events are occurring.

The students also recommended creating an internship program with downtown Hammond businesses and dedicating vacant space at the Hammond INnovation Center, which is next door to the Towle, to serve as a hub for interns.

Brian Colby, the Purdue Calumet senior presenting the business plan, said 8 percent of students surveyed said they wouldn't go to the Towle because of the surrounding neighborhood, along with 33 percent of Towle patrons, who said they believe the theater's location is the reason people don't attend.

“There are two different issues here in terms of location,” Colby said. “One is where it lies. If you don't live in Hammond or the surrounding area, you may not be aware of where downtown Hammond really is.

"Also there's another element and that's the perception of downtown Hammond. Whether it's right or wrong it exists, and it is there.”

Purdue Calumet announced last year it was in talks to bring plays and other university functions to the Towle Theater. Since then, the Towle has hosted the closing film of the college's international film series and may host a Purdue Calumet theater production.

Mark McLaughlin, chief of staff for Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., said the Towle is just one of the partnerships the city has recently started with the university. Purdue Calumet has bought a building on Indianapolis Boulevard to start a commercialization center as a way to draw in new businesses to Hammond.

Jeff Casey, Towle Theater managing director, said he will take the recommendations under consideration. As for ticket prices, Casey said the theater already tries to be strategic with its pricing and has found its current rate of $17 accessible to city residents.

“We want to see a vibrant downtown corridor and for people to feel safe coming to downtown,” Casey said. “I long for the day where there's foot traffic and people are walking around and businesses are open and vibrant.”

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