MERRILLVILLE — Believing a proposed community center would be an economic driver for development along the Broadway corridor, the Crossroads Regional Chamber of Commerce strongly endorses the project.
Sue Reed, the president and CEO of the chamber, was one of two people to speak during recent public hearings about two proposed bond issues totaling $24 million that would fund the construction of the facility in the 6600 block of Broadway.
“The Crossroads Regional Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors urges you to approve the funding mechanism for this project,” Reed said. “We cannot afford to miss this opportunity for our community.”
Reed said the location of the center is in an area in need of revitalization, and the new facility would be an economic driver that could attract more businesses to the Broadway corridor.
The project also could enhance the quality of life for residents.
“It is known that families and businesses will move to a community that has quality programming for youth,” Reed said. “Community recreation centers have been known to reduce crime in youth and also gives them an opportunity to mentor those younger.”
Reed said 87% of chamber members surveyed support the recreation facility. Of the members who responded, 57% work or own a business in Merrillville.
The project also received some opposition during the public hearings.
Leonard White, the Democratic nominee for the 7th Ward Town Council seat, said he has talked to residents who would rather see the money spent on other purposes. He also questioned how the town could pay back the debt.
White understands the project would create programs and activities, but he isn't willing to pursue bonds for $24 million “worth of play time.”
Town Councilman Shawn Pettit said taxes won't increase in Merrillville as a result of the 20-year bonds.
Bob Swintz, a town financial adviser, said the goal is to structure them to take the place of existing debt as it falls off.
The bonds will have two more public hearings July 9. The Town Council and Redevelopment Commission will later decide if they will authorize the debt.
If all aspects of the bond process advance as scheduled, it could be finalized in September, Swintz said.
Design work for the 100,000-square-foot community center continues as the town moves through the bond process.
Potential amenities include administration offices, a fitness center, gymnasium, walking track, rock climbing wall, event center and community room.
Town officials began contemplating the community center after the last parks master plan showed a need for such a facility.
“We're not doing stuff just to do it,” Council President Richard Hardaway said, “We're doing stuff because we're looking to improve everybody's life.”
A feasibility study was then completed, and it identified several parcels that could accommodate the facility.
Town officials targeted the former Y&W Theater property on Broadway for a variety of reasons, including its proximity to Merrillville High School and its location along a public transportation route.
A private volleyball club also remains interested in purchasing a portion of the town's Broadway property so the club could construct an athletic facility adjacent to the community center.
The volleyball club's project, which could cost between $3 million and $4 million, would require approval from the Plan Commission before construction could start, town officials said.
The process of selling the land could take months.