HAMMOND | City officials are counting on something that keeps people alive to help sustain the city.
Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. announced earlier this year the city is considering privatizing its water utility or selling to additional Illinois communities. Either option would generate millions of dollars for the city.
The timing is based on Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's proposed water rate increases on Illinois communities that buy Lake Michigan water through Chicago. Hammond could sell Lake Michigan water to those communities for less and still profit.
"Our primary goal is speeding that process along," McDermott said.
With gaming revenue on the decline, the city is counting on the water deal to be a reliable revenue source.
Aside from the proposed water sales, the city focus is on development and redevelopment.
The city recently inked a major rail development deal with Potash Corp., which will bring temporary and permanent jobs to the city.
Potash will locate a major rail transfer facility at Gibson Yard. The company will spend $64 million on a new 136,000-square-foot transfer facility, with Indiana Harbor Belt Railway investing $9 million and Hammond spending $5 million in federal and other funds for demolition and other work.
Doors opened on another large project at the end of 2011.
A new Walmart store opened at 1100 Fifth Ave., on the Chicago/Hammond border near the intersections of Indianapolis Boulevard, the Indiana Toll Road and Horseshoe Casino.
The 184,000-square-foot building features a full grocery store and department store, lawn and garden center, pharmacy, digital photo processing center, a hair salon, nail salon and vision center.
"It was a slag heap for decades," McDermott said, calling it a "ridiculously busy" store.
Another redeveloped site generating interest is the Oxbow Landing area, formerly known as River Park Apartments. Progress is being made on the effort to turn the 24-acre site of the former troubled apartment complex -- east of Kennedy Avenue and south of the Borman Expressway -- into a commercial area.
The city bought the land and demolished the apartments. Construction of a Hampton Inn is expected to start in the spring. The developer bought 4 acres for about $162,000 apiece. He also plans to build a Holiday Inn Express on the property.
The hotels are expected to attract other businesses to the site.