White Lodging no longer has any plans to develop the former site of the Star Plaza Theatre, the Radisson at Star Plaza hotel and the Twin Towers in Merrillville, and is open to selling the property — one of the most prime spots of commercial real estate in Northwest Indiana at U.S. 30 and Interstate 65.
The Merrillville-based hospitality company, which builds and operates hotels all over the country, had pitched a $356 million redevelopment project called The Farm at Crossroad Commons that would have included a meeting and event center, four hotels, an office building, a below-grade parking garage, a townhouse, condos, two restaurants, a craft brewery and distillery, an art gallery, a visitors center, a greenhouse and a 30,000-square-foot horse-riding arena.
The project, billed as a "game changer for Northwest Indiana" when it was put forth last year, has been stalled since November 2018 when the Lake County Council balked at a requested $75 million incentive that would have been paid for with a new 1% food and beverage tax on restaurant meals in Lake County.
White Lodging officials initially suggested they would pursue a smaller, more modest hotel project at the prominent, highly visible site at one of Northwest Indiana's most heavily trafficked interstate interchanges if the incentives didn't go through, but have given up on the project and any immediate plans for the land.
"The White family doesn’t have any further plans to develop the property," White Lodging Director of Communications Mike Banas said.
The company is now open to selling the 40-acre site just off two of the busiest highways in Northwest Indiana.
"The site is not being actively marketed," Banas said. "It is our hope that the site develops into something positive for the Northwest Indiana community, and we would certainly entertain a sale with someone interested in doing something positive with the property. The town of Merrillville was and continues to be a strong supporter of the site and the White family. NWI will remain a significant portion of the White family’s philanthropic endeavors, including its recent investment in local Catholic schools."
Merrillville council member Shawn Pettit said the White family had told the town earlier this year it might get the property appraised and put it on the market. Pettit had hoped the redevelopment project could be salvaged after the town approved a tax-increment financing district that could have contributed up to $105 million to the project over 15 years.
"We would certainly like them to reconsider developing The Farm at Crossroad Commons on the property," he said, noting it would have generated $6 million to $7 million in property taxes a year.
White Lodging is owned by Bruce White, the son of the late billionaire hotel and billboard magnate Dean White, who built a Holiday Inn, the Star Theatre and the Twin Towers at the site in the 1970s, transforming cornfields into one of the Region's most bustling commercial areas. Those longtime Region institutions — once central to life in Northwest Indiana — were closed and demolished in 2017 and 2018 after Dean White died and White Lodging looked to redevelop the area instead of dumping money into maintaining aging facilities.
South Shore Convention and Visitor Authority President and CEO Speros Batistatos said it was disappointing White Lodging did not plan to do anything further with the property.
"We are deeply saddened White Lodging has chosen not to invest in its home town," he said. "Given the fact that White Lodging has its national headquarters in Merrillville, it's upsetting that it has chosen to disinvest in Northwest Indiana. People are free to choose where and how they invest, but we would hope the property is sold to a developer quickly. It's 40 acres at the heart of Northwest Indiana at Interstate 65 and U.S. 30 that's long been an economic engine for the Region. It's destructive to the local economy that it's sat there so long."
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