Economic development could be off the charts this year as Lake County communities forge into the new year.
Lake County’s community by the lake is building for the future in innovative ways.
Cedar Lake received funding for a roundabout, its first, in 2013; the roundabout’s design is set to be completed this fall, and construction should begin in 2016. The single-lane roundabout will replace an intersection plagued with accidents at Cline Avenue and Lakeshore Drive.
The roundabout’s design phase began at the same time the town continued to put the finishing touches on the planned second phase of a widening project on 133rd Avenue, which is one of its two main commercial corridors. The widening of 133rd will pick up where the first phase ended at Industrial Drive and reconstruct and widen the remainder of 133rd Avenue to U.S. 41.
The infrastructure project also will extend the town’s water line to just west of U.S. 41, a move that will help spur development along the Wicker Avenue corridor, town officials have said.
Early into the new year, the town formed a unique partnership with a South Carolina-based company to oversee parks department programming.
Under terms of the contract, the company, GenMove, will hire a local staff, identify and coordinate volunteers, create a community outreach and provide such programming opportunities as soccer, summer camp, seasonal events, computer classes and youth and senior programs.
The town will retain ownership and control of all park properties, facilities and equipment, and also remain responsible for their maintenance.
The agreement is the first with GenMove in Lake County, GenMove’s principal, Steven Donziger said.
- Mary Wilds
New attractions planned for the city's 90-acre city sports complex and in the downtown square are the focus of attention this year, Crown Point Mayor David Uran said.
Four new youth-size softball playing fields are being installed in the third phase of work at the complex, on the city's east side off of 109th Avenue, with the fields planned to be open in time to host NSA softball league play in summer, Uran said.
Next to come at the complex is installation of a 120,000-square-foot inflatable dome suitable for year-round indoor play of soccer, softball, lacrosse and other activities. Groundbreaking is planned for later this year, Uran said.
Efforts continue to install a band shell and possible splash pad and ice arena at a near-downtown site where annual festivities would be centered, Uran said.
"We're pushing for a consistent vision for the downtown," he said. Negotiations are expected to get underway soon for the city to acquire a site on West Street as the locale for the amenities, Uran said.
"That's where our synergy is," Uran said. "That's where we bridge all portions of the city to come together in one location to enhance the hometown feel Crown Point is known for."
- Susan Erler
The town enters the year with a new set of challenges and expectations.
Key is development of gateway intersection to the town, the northeast corner of Hart Street and U.S. 30.
The Redevelopment Commission acquired what was left of privately held property on that corner late last year. Vacant for 18 years, the parcel had been owned by multiple parties, which hampered its development, officials have said.
Developers are already showing interest in building there, town officials said.
The town also is looking at road reconstruction projects this year. The town is putting together estimates for reconstruction at Cambridge and 211th Streets.
And recreational development remains a priority.
Parks officials opened a new dog park last year at Central Park to great fanfare and success. New ball fields also opened on the north side of the park, and when spring comes town officials will see how well the seeding has gone for fields in the central area of the park.
These fields will serve the local Dyer Kickers soccer league as soon as grass has grown in adequately. A road to the central portion of the park property was opened to the public last year and a parking area is already in place. The new dog park and a pavilion are directly adjacent to parking as are the future soccer fields.
- Mary Wilds
Park upgrades, street projects, and demolition of vacant properties are upcoming projects East Chicago residents will see in the upcoming year.
Mayor Anthony Copeland hopes to announce big projects in early spring.
The lakefront beach improvement project, tagged at $3 million, will help beautify the marina and Jeorse Park.
"Then we're looking at some street projects, and some demolition projects going on across the entire city," Copeland said.
Cline Avenue and Columbus Drive, along with Riley Road and Dickey Road are scheduled to have new roundabouts for increased traffic flow. Also, plans to improve Northcote and Baring Avenue are scheduled to move forward.
About $2 million is also scheduled for renovations of parks throughout the city, ranging from new pavilions to replacing playground equipment.
Copeland said big projects involving near $20 million could be announced in the spring, so long as funding and partnerships can be secured.
"I just can't provide details until everything is finalized," Copeland said.
- Matt Mikus
Four major projects come to mind for Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, with the top project seeing the Gary/Chicago International Airport take off under a new private-public partnership.
"We already have a number of companies reach out to be in the footprint," Freeman-Wilson said, "to see new jobs and increases in small business."
New investments into Indiana University Northwest for new buildings and architecture at University Park means upcoming construction projects for the campus.
The federal Strong Cities Strong Communities program selecting Gary will offer a team of experts from different federal agencies to work with local leaders on revitalization projects, like a trauma center bid, deal with abandoned buildings and promote more retail businesses.
The $1.5 million project to demolish the former Sheraton Hotel is set for early this year.
"Those are a few of the areas that you'll see progress in right away," Freeman-Wilson said.
- Matt Mikus
Griffith has many plans to favor business and maintain its residential quality of life, Town Council President Rick Ryfa said.
The bike trail, from Main to Lafayette, will sport new curbs, sidewalk paver bricks and decorative street lighting, Ryfa said.
"The objective is to mirror the work done in the downtown district."
Major street resurfacing is in the works, along with a program to encourage people to improve their properties, Ryfa said.
Permit fees will be modified to help out.
Business facade and other revitalization programs will be expanded.
Support will continue for the police to keep violent crime at the reduced level achieved last year.
Police Chief Greg Mance said his department will build on last year's success and actively target specific issues.
"We will expand our partnership with IUN, C.U.R.E. and other regional police departments as we interactively map all of our communities and the crime that occurs in them," Mance said.
A full 31-officer force this year will mean more protection, Mance noted.
"This will range from increased bicycle and ATV patrols of our parks, commercial areas and apartment complexes, to undercover investigations of drug activity."
- Charles F. Haber
Construction for the new Potash Corp. distribution center is scheduled to begin this spring, bringing $85 million into Hammond.
"We finally found out that in April, construction is going to begin," said Phil Taillon, executive director of planning and development.
The new location is set to build a regional distribution center at the Harbor Yard, and will have a footprint the size of two football fields, Taillon said.
The Woodmar Walmart plans to close and relocate to the Cabela's property starting this summer, expanding from a standard Walmart store to a Supercenter that includes groceries.
That move is expected to offer $25 million in development according to Taillon, who added the additional warehouse retailer could encourage between $10 million and $15 million in additional businesses in the long run.
Taillon expects $3.5 million in new traffic lights and infrastructure improvements around the Walmart complex near Horseshoe Casino will prompt businesses to locate in the area once it's easier to access from the road.
- Matt Mikus
The new year "promises to be an exciting year filled with a great deal of progress in Highland," said Dan Vassar, Town Council president.
Groundbreaking for a new police station tops the list, Vassar said, noting that it will open in July 2015.
"(It will) provide our law enforcement officers and our community with a 21st century facility to fight 21st century crime."
The Redevelopment Commission is earmarking properties to purchase, when available, to string together and "create shovel-ready parcels ready for potential developers," Vassar said.
Highland will capitalize on what leaders consider the "unbelievable success" of the new Lincoln Center by finding ways to pour even more visitors into the facility.
Another historic icon, the vacant Town Theatre, is now owned by the town.
Vassar said plans will be made to restore the building and continue its entertainment history.
Highland will continue developing flood relief initiatives and keep acquiring proper equipment for the Police and Fire departments, he added.
- Charles F. Haber
Plans have been established for the last phase of the city's Lakefront District improvements.
About 700 feet of shoreline will be stabilized during the project, which will take several years to complete, said Julie Mandon, recreation and operations coordinator at the Hobart Parks Department.
She said the stabilization efforts involve placing large rocks and boulders in the area, which runs near the Lake George dam to west of the Festival Park Community Center.
Some preliminary in-house work associated with the project could be started during warm weather months this year.
The improvements also include creating a boat launch for canoes and kayaks as well as a walkway area and fishing deck.
Mandon said she recently applied for an Indiana Department of Natural Resources grant to help fund the improvements, estimated to cost about $600,000.
The city will find out in July if it will be receiving the grant, she said.
- Chas Reilly
By the end of spring, Lake Station Mayor Keith Soderquist hopes to have the new water filtration plant online and see progress on the Field Of Dreams complex.
Residents slowly will be phased onto the $10 million water filtration plant, built on Union Street, beginning this month. Once the city has all been moved onto the plant, the city will be taken off of American Water Co.’s water, he said.
Soderquist projects costs to residents will be lower than what they’re currently paying to American Water. The Lake Station plant also will include a softener, which is not offered by the current program.
“This water plant really allows us to control our destiny, and the city will be on 100 percent Lake Station water,” he said. “We’ll have water as good as, if not better than, water provided by American Water.”
Once the weather improves, work will begin again on the Field of Dreams, which is just east of the Grand Boulevard Lake.
New playground equipment is ready to be installed, and the city is putting together a bid package for a concession stand and an announcing box for the three existing baseball fields.
Future plans include adding a fourth field and a skate park, he said.
The park, which costs about $700,000, comes from a bond through the city’s park department.
- Carrie Rodovich
Braced by a young but active Redevelopment Commission and annexation committees, the Lowell Town Council is poised to further expand its boundaries.
Council President Edgar Corns, R-5th, chairs the town's agricultural annexation advisory committee and sits on the annexation committee.
"You can't survive as a bedroom community," Corns said, but Lowellians have traditionally been uninterested in growing their borders. "Probably we annexed more last year — 117 acres — than in the town's history," he said.
The focus is both east and west, Corns said.
"We want to go west to take in the landfill to get to (U.S.) 41," Corns said. Immediately west of the Republic Services-owned construction and demolition landfill is the John Russel Farm which runs west from railroad tracks to frontage on U.S. 41. "Johnny has said he'll come in ... He's already moved into town," he said.
That farm acreage could answer queries for developers interested in an intermodal facility, Corns said.
Expanding the town's tax base is crucial and a priority recommendation from the town's financial consultant, Corns said. "Besides the tax base, we need to look for outside income," he said. Landfill tipping fees could provide that additional revenue.
"We need to look east to take in (Ind.) 2 to I-65, too," Corns said.
Land on the town's east end on the north side of Ind. 2 has been annexed to accommodate developing the Franciscan Physician Network - Lowell Health Center which recently opened.
Since then, the Redevelopment Commission has made preliminary inquiries regarding annexing land Lake County Parks and Recreation owns on the south side of Ind. 2.
- Melanie Csepiga
New development and major roadwork is in store for Merrillville this year.
Town Councilman Richard Hardaway said a memory care facility planned for 7900 Rhode Island St. is a prominent development the town expects to see start this year.
Hardaway also said the opening of a Family Dollar at 54th Avenue and Broadway this year could show a renewed interest in the north side of Merrillville.
He said north Merrillville hasn't had as much business growth as other areas of town.
Hardaway said he wants to show north Merrillville remains a viable part of town for businesses, and he hopes the new Family Dollar could help attract more commercial activity to that area.
He said infrastructure improvements also are scheduled in Merrillville.
A major road project to reconstruct and widen Mississippi Street to four lanes is slated to begin this year. The work will occur from 101st Avenue to just south of U.S. 30.
Merrillville's Stormwater Utility also is expected to finish its Taft Street drainage project in 2014.
- Chas Reilly
The town has a variety of public and private construction projects planned this year.
Town Manager Thomas DeGuilio announced Land O’ Frost will open a new corporate headquarters at 630 Hagberg Drive, and another food producer, Carl Buddig, will open a new distribution facility at 215 45th St.
Over at the Lake Business Center, Tech-Air and AM Manufacturing will be moving in. Two restaurants, Noodles & Co. and Meatheads, are under construction on an outlot there.
Community Hospital will complete its vertical expansion, adding offices, patient rooms and additional services. Franciscan Healthcare will begin a major expansion of its facility on Superior Avenue in the spring.
Craft beer enthusiasts can look forward to a multimillion dollar expansion of Three Floyds Brewery, which will include increased brewing capacity, a new bottling operation and a distillery for high-end liquor. Adding to the town’s retail base, Boyer Development Co. is acquiring properties on the west side of Calumet Avenue for additional commercial development as a complement to Munster Shops, with construction expected to begin this year.
A mixed use development is tabbed for the current Munster Steel site at the northern end of Centennial Park. The relocation of Munster Steel (to Hammond) will provide needed right of way for constructing the grade separation of 45th Street and Calumet Avenue.
- Jim Masters
New Chicago officials plan to use grant money from the Indiana Department of Transportation to add a “smart light” to a busy town intersection.
The light, 80 percent of which is funded through an INDOT grant worth about $278,000, will be added to the intersection of Michigan and Huber streets, said Pam Richard, Town Council president.
“The light will be set for emergencies, so the police and fire officials can turn the light red, if need be,” she said.
The plan is also to improve the intersection to make it more handicapped-accessible.
She is hoping work on the project will begin in June, after school is done for the year.
Richard said town officials also would like to pursue grant money to improve the front area of Town Hall, which has a flight of steps that are not accessible for people with disabilities.
Officials also are hoping to make improvements to Twin Oaks Park on Tyler Avenue. They include upgrading sidewalks to make them more handicapped-accessible, as well as extend a sidewalk to the playground itself. A concession stand also has been discussed, she said.
No matter the project, grant money is important to help the town thrive.
“Our budget is extremely small,” Richard said. “In order to do virtually any project, we have to use either grants or loans. Grants are always better, so we don’t have to pay for things out of pocket.”
- Carrie Rodovich
It's been a busy start to the year in Schererville.
Some Shops on Main stores are opening and construction of other buildings in the complex continues.
The town also has started to review plans for a proposed brewery that would be about a mile south of Shops on Main.
Town Manager Bob Volkmann said Craft 41 Brewery would be the first brewery in Schererville.
Developer Bruce Boyer, of Boyer Properties, said he hopes the business could be operational by August. He believes the brewery could attract other new businesses to that area.
The development occurring on U.S. 41 has town leaders examining the Fire Department's needs to respond to calls for service in that corridor.
Constructing a modern facility as the primary fire station for Schererville's west side is among those needs.
Volkmann said town leaders have reviewed a study of the Fire Department's calls for service. The town will gather more information before selecting possible sites for the facility, he said.
- Chas Reilly
Schneider Clerk-Treasurer Jenny Beier is hoping 2014 will bring the town closer to achieving some water projects.
Beier said she is working with Triad Associates and the O.W. Krohn accounting firm to figure out a plan to overhaul wastewater lines and update several systems.
She is hoping to be put on the state’s revolving fund priority project list to help finance the project.
“We’re trying to get funding, find grants for the projects, and we’re hopeful,” she said. “It’s looking positive. But this would be a multiyear project, and we don’t really know if it will start this year, next year, or the year after that.”
The project could costs in the millions of dollars, and projects that big are virtually impossible for taxpayers in a small town to fund without outside help.
“Our town has 277 people, and we don’t have that kind of money in our regular budget.
- Carrie Rodovich
Increased residential and commercial development are on the horizon, as St. John town officials focus on bringing businesses to serve a thriving housing component.
"It's exciting," Town Manager Steve Kil said.
"We're looking at bringing in new businesses that residents will like," Kil said. Restaurants, especially, are what residents have said they want, Kil said.
Already in the works are plans for a McDonalds restaurant on the northeast corner of U.S. 41 and West 97th Lane, Kil said. Another, as yet unnamed restaurant, is expected on the east side of U.S. 41, opposite the entrance to Lake Central High School, 8400 Wicker Ave., Kil said.
Ground is expected to be broken this year for an assisted living center, the town's first, Kil said.
The number of new housing starts is expected to climb this year, Kil said. The Willow Ridge third phase and Greystone developments already are in planning stages, he said.
The town saw a total of 204 new housing starts last year, on top of 165 the previous year, Kil said.
"We're looking to maintain that pace for the coming year, Kil said.
- Susan Erler
The city celebrates its 125th anniversary this year, and residents can look forward to a jam-packed summer to mark the milestone.
"Primarily the entire month of July, and probably a few weeks before and a few weeks after, we're going to hold a series of events to celebrate the anniversary," Mayor Joe Stahura said.
Also in recognition of its 125th anniversary, the city plans to have a permanent archway built that would stretch from sidewalk to sidewalk over 119th Street just east of Indianapolis Boulevard to serve as a welcoming point to the downtown area.
Stahura said he is shooting for July for that project.
Also in July, Stahura plans to have a ribbon-cutting ceremony for completion of the new and improved Whiting Lakefront Park.
He said remaining work to be done should be finished over the next couple of months, once the weather breaks.
"Some of that work will be connecting any trails, finishing up some of our gardens and our gazebo, and we'll be looking at starting construction on the new lakefront restaurant," Stahura said.
Talks continue between the city and representatives from the National Mascot Hall of Fame and the Chicago Baseball Museum regarding the possibility of both finding a permanent home in Whiting, and some decision on the matter is expected to be reached this year.
A renovation of the Whiting Community Center, which was closed on Jan. 1, should be completed by September.
- Paul Czapkowicz
Enhanced safety and accessibility are among top priorities for Winfield this year.
The commercial center of town at 109th Avenue and Randolph Street will be eyed for continued infrastructure improvement, aided by the creation last year of the town's first tax increment financing district, Clerk-treasurer Rick Anderson said.
Federal grant funding is being sought to plan a pedestrian and bicycle route connecting residential housing with the town's center. Sidewalks and bike lanes would be part of the plan.
One of the goals is to increase walkability and access to the downtown retail center, Anderson said.
Creating a town marshal position is moving through the approval process.
Town officials also continue to work on improvements along 109th Avenue, between Crown Point and Winfield, Anderson said.
Preliminary plans would add turn lanes, bike paths and sidewalks along 109th Avenue, where traffic has picked up since the 2010 opening of the 109th Avenue interchange off of Interstate 65, Anderson said.
- Susan Erler