HAMMOND | When Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. came into office nine years ago, he became a catalyst for major changes in the city.
Under his tenure, the city demolished the troubled River Park Apartments in Hessville, the source of a disproportionate number of police and fire calls. The site called Oxbow Landing, south of Interstate 80/94 and just east of Kennedy Avenue, is now prime for development.
He began the popular College Bound program, which provides college scholarships to students of Hammond homeowners using revenue the city receives from Horseshoe Casino. The city is now working on a long-term financing plan for the program.
“It's a 125-year-old city, but we don't act like it,” McDermott said. “It's a very young city. We have a very young government of go-getters, and we'll do anything to make this city a better place to live. We've proven that. If we have a problem, we admit we have a problem and we go attack it.”
In the past year, Hammond saw new development with Potash Corp., the world's largest fertilizer producer, breaking ground on an $80 million investment at Gibson Yard. The city is looking at the potential for development around the Lost Marsh Golf Course and announced a developer is interested in cultivating retail and entertainment venues in Robertsdale near the Five Points intersection. The area around the Cabela's site at Indianapolis Boulevard and Interstate 80/94 is picking up interest with Walmart exploring a move.
“Where it starts getting tougher to develop is internally into Hammond,” McDermott said. “You take Cabela's, which was the retail store of the year for their chain a couple of years ago, and drive two miles north and go to Woodmar Mall and they're struggling – the Carson Pirie is not struggling – but we're struggling as an administration to develop that property. We have to understand where our strength is right now and our strength is in the outlying parts of Hammond, and we have to work on the internals.”
McDermott said he still is open-minded about moving City Hall from Calumet Avenue to downtown to generate more traffic in the Hohman Avenue corridor. He said while downtown won't return to a shopping destination as it was in the 1950s and 1960s, he said the area has strengths, such as the U.S. District Courthouse, the county courthouse and Franciscan St. Margaret Health.
McDermott said one of his main goals is continuing the College Bound program after its original 10-year run. He said because the future of gaming revenue is “tenuous,” with talks of casinos in Chicago and the south suburbs, he wants to move the program to a more stable funding source.
“So if we are going to take that big of a hit in gaming revenue, which I think we have to prepare ourselves for, is it wise to continue the College Bound program on that source of revenue? I don't think so," McDermott said, "but fortunate for us, we have other options in Hammond, and I can tell you I have every intention in trying to keep that program up and running.”