HAMMOND — Attracting investments and revitalizing entire areas of the city means “Hammond is reasserting itself in the Region and the state,” Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. told some 400 guests attending Wednesday’s Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Dynasty Banquet Center.
McDermott’s State of the City address followed a different format from previous years, with Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Dave Ryan asking questions the mayor fielded.
Oxbow Landing, at Kennedy Avenue and Interstate 80/94, is one of those major revitalizations that occurred during McDermott’s nearly 15 years in office.
Originally the site of the River Park Apartments, McDermott said one of the reasons he was first elected in 2003 was his pledge to tear down the crime-ridden apartment complex.
The city bought the property for $14 million, but the market crashed in 2008 “and it sat there,” McDermott said. Since then, Oxbow Landing has been developed into an office, hotel and retail complex that the mayor said is currently worth $30 million.
“When it’s finished it will be worth $50 million,” McDermott said about plans for the remaining 4.4 acres.
He also credited the city’s staff for helping Lear Corp. expand at a new location within city limits. That $35 million project on Michigan Street, just east of Indianapolis Boulevard, will pay “wages that can support a family,” he said.
Building the SportsPlex on Indianapolis Boulevard is a $20 million investment designed to draw people to the city, to stay in hotels and go to restaurants, the mayor said.
Noting the SportsPlex building has taken away parking from Carson’s Department Store, McDermott acknowledged, “I think Carson’s will always be part of Hammond.”
McDermott also recognized development by Purdue University Northwest.
PNW Chancellor Thomas L. Keon talked about the new building planned for the Hammond campus at McDermott’s invitation.
This new $40 million building will house the biology and nursing programs and will be constructed in the parking area south of the Student Union & Library Building, Keon said.
The mayor said the $180 million referendum for the School City of Hammond will build a new Hammond High School. However, he added, the school city needs to work closer with the city to combine athletic fields.
“We want to save on athletic fields and put (the money) into the buildings,” he said. “You can’t be a great mayor without working with the schools.”
Although development continues, McDermott said, “There are parts of our city that are struggling. The downtown is one of them."
“For the last five years, the Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce has talked about moving City Hall to downtown,” the mayor said.
“But what are we going to do with the current City Hall and the neighbors in that area? (Moving City Hall) would be fixing one problem and creating another.”
Property tax caps also are creating financial issues for the city, McDermott said.
While good for taxpayers’ budgets, those tax caps “are bad for government,” he said. “We have to prioritize.”
McDermott said those property tax caps and fewer residents using the outdoor swimming pools are reasons for closing four pools.
“It’s a cost-cutting move,” he said. “I believe in fiscal prudence. We will replace the holes in the ground with something spectacular.”
Bringing in more investment is key, McDermott said. That includes the $200 million Hammond will receive in the South Shore expansion.
“We all get to think regionally,” he said. “I’ll root regionally, but I’ve got to be the mayor of Hammond.”