People will soon be able to listen to beach concerts with their toes in the sand in East Chicago, and likely rent a jet ski or kayak on the Lake Michigan lakefront there.
East Chicago's marina and lakefront have been undergoing a $15.5 million transformation that includes a permanent stage on the beach, a new harbor walk and 25-foot-tall beach ball and umbrella sculptures — public art people will be able to sit under if they want some shade or to snap selfies in front of.
Last year, the city started installing state-of-the-art piers for the boaters. The piers include cable television and Wi-Fi, new social spaces for the boaters in front of each pier, and a new harbor walk with benches and seating, city spokesman Steve Segura said.
The city hopes to finish many of the improvements by May, just in time for the beach and boating season, and complete others later in the summer.
East Chicago plans to paint all the marina buildings this year and has been considering adding murals, Segura said. The city hopes to reopen the marina restaurant as a bar and grill this summer and let visitors rent Jet Skis, paddle boats and kayaks.
"It could be a big draw," East Chicago Marina Director Natalie Adams said. "There's nothing else like that in Northwest Indiana. We're very excited about our beach. We had some new guests last year, and hope to draw more."
East Chicago has been making improvements to its Jeorse Park Beach on Lake Michigan, including a playground, a splash pad and three shelters. The city has been working on a beach restoration and looks to host more events there, such as the lakefront Fusion Fest that debuted last August and is expected to return as an annual event.
"We're building a platform on the beach so we can have music directly on the beach," Segura said.
The stage potentially could be used by musicians during East Chicago's big Independence Day celebration on July 3 that features fireworks, live music and food vendors by the lake. Jeorse Park Beach also hosts teen beach bashes for teens from East Chicago and surrounding communities during the summer months.
"We're trying to bring more people to the beach," Segura said. "We keep our beach as clean as possible. We have dogs chasing away the geese and regularly clean the sand. Trucks sift the sand twice a day."
New piers have been put in at the East Chicago Marina, which was shrunk from 280 boat slips to 138 with the intent of freeing up space for boat and Jet Ski rentals.
"We're constantly looking for new and innovative things to do," Adams said. "In the past, there was no reason to come out here unless you had a boat. Now you can come out to fish, walk or enjoy the tranquility, and we're looking to add water activities: Jet Ski rentals, paddleboat rentals, kayaking rentals, things of that nature."
A private operator wants to bring in rentals, but the marina must complete surveying the water for any hazards if people were to fall off a Jet Ski or out of the boats.
"There's no problem with the water," Adams said. "We're just looking at what might be underneath the water. We want to do things correctly."
Construction is ongoing at the lakefront.
"We're still kind of clicking away at Jeorse Park Beach," she said. "We're continuing with landscaping, things of that nature. By May we should bring in the big architectural pieces, the umbrella and beach balls. They're pretty nice art and a nice place for a photo op."
For more information, call the East Chicago Marina at 219-391-8482 or visit jeorseparkbeach.com.