Local officials say 2013 was a busy year for economic development and redevelopment projects.
“If a community is not moving forward it is really moving backwards,” Munster Town Manager Tom DeGiulio says, “Economic development is important to a community’s quality of life and property values. The efforts made by a community to properly develop vacant ground and to redevelop existing obsolete or underutilized property are critical to the community’s long-term survival.” DeGiulio explains that this includes renewing the public infrastructure as well as private land obsolete buildings.
Crown Point Mayor David Uran concurs: “The old adage is that if you don’t do anything you will die on the vine." Uran says his city’s success is a team effort. “It’s not one person. It’s not one business. It’s not one house. It is everybody doing their part.”
Uran sees his role as the team coach. “I’m just like a coach, trying to extract all the talent,” Uran says. “Everyone plays their part. That is why it is working in Crown Point.”
Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas agrees on the importance of economic development and redevelopment to keep his city thriving.
“Redevelopment is always occurring,” Costas says. “From our standpoint economic development is only as strong as its weakest facility.”Costas also agrees that it is a team effort. Costas says the high school, Ivy Tech and Valparaiso University all work hard to provide the well-trained and educated work force necessary to draw new businesses to the community.
The Northwest Indiana Forum is another driving force for attracting business to the area. Forum Director of Marketing and Communications Karen Lauerman describes her agency as “a one stop shop” when it comes to marketing the region.
Lauerman says the 130-member forum holds the regional license for two highly effective marketing tools Zoom Prospector, which is the Geographical Information System (GIS) site selection tool and the Executive Pulse, which is the business retention and expansion software. “The forum creates marketing opportunities because in order to get leads, which eventually turn into deals. The process has to start by getting our name out there,” Lauerman explains. “Wherever the project lands in the community we have to start the ball rolling somewhere. The forum is the marketing arm of Northwest Indiana. It is one of our main goals to market to brokers and developers, site selectors and consultants.”
The forum hosts receptions, programs and conferences.
“We participate in conferences where our exhibits create exceptional opportunities for local leaders to represent their community as part of the Northwest Indiana region,” Lauerman says.
In DeGiulio's estimation 2013 was a great year for overall economic development in Munster.“The housing market is making a steady comeback,” DeGiulio says. “New starts and existing rates are steady.”
Munster’s major developments in 2013 were: Community Hospital’s vertical expansion, Homewood Suites Hotel at the Lake Business Center; Noodles and Meatheads Restaurants at the Lake Business Center; Land O’Frost corporate headquarters at Hagberg Drive; American Machine Works on Superior Avenue; and the relocation of Munster Steel to Hammond, which is the start of Centennial Village Development at 45th and Calumet. DeGiulio said a Franciscan Hospital project is nearing final approval and hopefully breaking ground this fall.
DeGiulio explains that major manufacturing businesses which have committed to relocating to Munster at the Lake Business Center are Tec Air and MAC Medical Supply. He adds that several professional and medical offices have opened in the center’s remodeled areas.
Uran says Bickford of Crown Point Assisted Living and Memory Care, a multi-million dollar project on 107th Avenue, was a nice addition to the city.
Uran adds that the new Family Express transformed the corner at Indiana Avenue and North Street, which is a revitalization district.
“It definitely put a bounce in the step of that area,” Uran says. “We anticipate a nice economic package next year developing across the street where the duplexes, which may not be in the best shape at this point in time in their history, might be razed for economic development. There is a snowball effect that is happening in that location.”
Uran says the nearby SportsPlex has been a catalyst for development in the surrounding area. The city this year completed the second phase, a $4 million project and has started the $3.5 million dollar third phase.
“The SportsPlex has probably been what has put us on the map as far as getting people to come and see Crown Point,” Uran says. “Teams from everywhere in the Midwest play there. Next year we are happy to say that starting May 1 all the way through Aug. 1 pretty much every night and weekend the facility will be used in some capacity whether it is for local amateur sports or through tourism dollars tournaments that bring in a lot of outside teams to see Crown Point. That is truly an economic engine that will boost an opportunity for everybody in business or who lives in Crown Point.”
Uran says The Family Express is also building at the south end of the city at Franciscan Drive and Court Street, a location that was in need and where a former gas station had closed down. A new multi-million dollar Culver’s, under construction at Summit Street and Broadway, is the result of Mayor Uran’s attending the International Shopping Center Conference in Las Vegas.
“We met with the real estate team out there in Las Vegas and they introduced us to Mr. Terpstra who is making the investment here in Crown Point.”
Costas says in 2013 the headliner in economic development news for Valparaiso has been the expansion of Pratt Industries, which involves building a $260 million, 250,000-square foot paper recycling plant.
“When it is complete, we believe that it is the single biggest private project and will become our largest private employer,” Costas said. “We are really excited that we were chosen over 100 others. It will create 137 new jobs by 2018.”
The next good news, Costas said, is AM Stabilizers Corporation, a chemical company which manufactures stabilizers for various uses, purchased the former Indiana Beverage Building on Silhavy Road. Costas said the company is renovating the building and is expected to bring 35 jobs to the city.
“We are pleased with that,” Costas says.
Indiana Beverage, moved to a larger 250,000-square-foot space on Ind. 49 just south of U.S. 30, where it invested $15 million to retain 140 employees.
Emerson Power Transmission, which has a strong presence in the city, Costas says, began the consolidation of their facilities from other locations to Valparaiso.
Costas says retail is growing in Valparaiso with a mix of small retailers and larger box stores. Costas said the city has now created four business parks along Ind. 49 and U.S. 30, which provides an opportunity for expansion and growth.
“We are trying to build a city where people want to live,” Costas says. “It is about quality of life. We have one of the most vibrant downtowns. The city has a lot to offer. It is a safe city with no large city problems. We have the best shopping and entertainment with 150 activities downtown. We are expanding our parks to create more events. We have excellent restaurants. It is about a livable community, about strong education and a strong work force.”
Uran says the draw for Crown Point, which has the highest number of new housing starts in the area, is a combination of factors including having one of the lowest tax rates in Northwest Indiana, a low crime rate and a great school system.
“It’s a winning formula,” Uran says. “We haven’t lost our hometown charm. We still have our free festivals and the downtown is viable.”
Uran’s vision for the downtown is an entertainment center on land currently owned by the school corporation along West Street. He envisions an outdoor band shell, a place for the farmers market to be open every weekend, a gathering spot for performing artists and for festivals, whether it is the chamber, Oktoberfest or any event which would draw people to Crown Point or bring people out of their homes on a regular basis.
“That will keep our downtown viable and keep our roadways open,” Uran says. “It will be a destination place for everyone to visit Crown Point and just enjoy it.”
DeGiulio says Munster, also known for its quality schools, has done several things over the years to encourage and be ready for development.
“We have worked to ensure the necessary infrastructure is in place for private development,” DeGiulio says. “This includes expanding roads including the grade separation and eventual extension of Main Street.”
DeGiulio says the town council and redevelopment commission are open to offering incentives for developers which will give a return and achieve the priority goals for redevelopment. This includes existing businesses as well as those coming to the community, DeGiulio says.