MUNSTER — The new Maple Leaf Crossing development in Munster will bring cutting-edge shipping container architecture to the Region — as well a School of Rock music school, a Hyatt Place hotel, a glassy four-story office building, new retail shops and restaurants, and possibly a second BuffaLouie's eatery like the one just off the Indiana University campus in Bloomington.
Developer Jay Lieser of 1st Metropolitan Builders, a local home builder who founded and owns BuffaLouie's in Bloomington, is planning a $30 million to $40 million development at the northwest corner of Calumet Avenue and 45th Street. The plan includes a walkable campus, an extension of the Monon Trail to connect it to the Pennsy Greenway Trail across the railroad tracks in Centennial Park, and a sculpture made with I-beams from the demolished Munster Business Complex to pay tribute to Northwest Indiana's industrial heritage.
The project will include a restaurant and live music venue where School of Rock students can perform and — most uniquely — repurposed shipping containers that will be home to businesses like boutiques, wine cafes, craft brewing taprooms and potentially a bike repair shop. One shipping container will jut out of the second story of a conventional building, serving as a doctor's private office.
It's being billed as the most extensive use of shipping container architecture anywhere in Chicagoland.
1st Metropolitan Builders, which has built luxury homes in neighborhoods like Park West and Estates of White Oak in Munster, is making its first foray into commercial development with the ambitious Maple Leaf Crossing. It recently completed the demolition of the Munster Business Complex that had been home to O'Hara Sports, Solan's and at one time Wonder Bread.
The developer will start construction soon on the massive mixed-use project that will combine retail, restaurants, offices, the hotel and music school on a pedestrian-friendly campus with many bike racks as well as hundreds of parking spaces.
“The town is very pleased with the conceptual plans presented by Mr. Lieser,” Munster Town Manager Dustin Anderson said. “This is the type of creative and appealing pedestrian-centric development that our residents are consistently looking for.”
Lieser plans to build a four-story 105-room Hyatt Place hotel for a local hotel group. It will include 3,000 to 4,000 square feet of meeting space for weddings, baby showers, corporate gatherings and other events. It's expected to draw business travelers looking to visit the steel mills, the Chicago Assembly Plant or Chicago's Loop.
"The hotels nearby are booked with business travelers from Sunday through Thursday," he said. "You have a lot of business travelers passing through the Region, and it's easier to stay in Munster. There are a lot of good restaurants and amenities nearby."
He also will construct a contemporary glassy Class A professional office building. 1st Metropolitan Builders already has signed up tenants to occupy about 30,000 of the 56,000 square feet.
"We have a handful of tenants: medical, financial advisers, title companies," he said. "Discussions are ongoing. It's a gorgeous building with good traffic. We think there will be medical demand and professional demand, such as from financial planners. There's a lot of medical on the street both north and south of the train tracks."
The development also will include a large restaurant, likely with outdoor seating, overhead garage doors that open up to the patio and a stage for music. Lieser said the hope is to provide young people with local live entertainment so they don't have to drive into the city, and provide families a place to eat after youth sports games.
"It'll be a family-oriented place where you could celebrate Little League or other sports victories, or lick your wounds from the game," he said.
Lieser is hoping to open a second location of BuffaLouie's, a favorite among IU students that serves wings, salads, burgers and other comfort foods, but is looking for an owner-operator to step up and run it as a franchise.
"It's something for an owner-operator to put their blood and sweat into," he said.
Maple Leaf Crossing also will feature a strip mall along Calumet Avenue that will include Northwest Indiana's first School of Rock, a 3,000-square-foot music school that will teach guitar, bass, drums, vocals, performance and other musical skills to aspiring rock-and-rollers of all ages and skill levels. The chain, which is typically open from 2 to 9 p.m. on weekdays to cater to the after-school crowd, has locations all over the world, including 16 across the Chicagoland area.
Founded in Massachusetts in 1996, School of Rock predates the Jack Black movie and Broadway musical that share the same name. It is unique among music schools in that it combines private lessons with group band practices as its students work toward a goal of live performances. Its only current Indiana locations are in Carmel, Fishers and Fort Wayne.
"It's very cool, the things they do with these students, giving them the confidence they need," Lieser said. "They will teach you any instrument you want to play. Every 14 to 16 weeks they put them on stage for a concert that's very professional. Being able to play on stage gives them great confidence. It's like team sports for musicians."
Other tenants in the retail portion could include a pub, a breakfast cafe, and a math and science after-school learning laboratory.
Maple Leaf Crossing also will feature 10 to 12 businesses in shipping containers, similar to Stackt in Toronto, Ontario, and Sparkman Wharf in Tampa, Florida. Lieser said he's in talks with different potential tenants, such as a craft brewery and a women's clothing boutique "like Anthropologie."
The hope is to have some of the new businesses open as early as 2020.
"I'm local. I've had three boys go through the Munster schools," Lieser said. "I take pride in the community and want a development with architectural aesthetics everyone can be proud of."
For more information, visit mapleleafcrossing.com or call 219-836-8282.