As derelict buildings and brownfields transform into anchors for economic development and quality of life, Crown Point is beginning to live up to its "Hub City" nickname in the Region, city leaders say.

When the announcement came in November that the city was planning to turn the long-shuttered Lake County Greenhouse property into a new $10 million to $11 million City Hall and police building, some of Mayor David Uran's comments on the project may have had a familiar ring. 

Comments defining that announcement included "best use of property," "unique to Crown Point" and "the next unbelievable addition to Crown Point."

Words like those have been used by the mayor and other officials in the last several years as the city has been transforming brownfields and abandoned buildings and lots to civic and development use.

The ongoing transformation efforts, made possible with a mix of public and private funding, are helping define Crown Point as the Lake County seat in both name and reality, city officials say.

Brownfield to Sportsplex

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A major catalyst for that transformation began when Crown Point's sprawling youth Sportsplex opened in 2011.

The site formerly had been 90 acres of municipal brownfield that included the old water department and old wells. It also was used as a dumping ground for leftover material from city projects.

It was an eyesore in the eyes of Uran and many city residents.

Now it's a major youth sports tourism draw that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city for tournaments and other activities. Meanwhile, local youth football, soccer and softball leagues call the facility home.

And a privately managed inflatable sports dome ensures the site is used year-round.

The $4-million plus Sportsplex was made possible with funding that included $1.5 million from the city's Redevelopment Commission and $1 million from the Dean and Barbara White Foundation. Federal funds were obtained to improve the 109th Avenue corridor and add the intersection with Bulldog Boulevard as a new entrance to the park.

Officials said the Sportsplex brings in 750,000 people throughout the year — visitors who spend money at local businesses. 

"Sport tourism has been huge," Uran said. 

Adding to the anchor

A planned new Crown Point City Hall and police building, at the intersection of North Street and Indiana Avenue, would be contiguous with the Sportsplex, adding to an already successful anchor, officials say.

Uran announced the City Hall plan earlier this year.

In addition to building off the Sportsplex footprint, the new city headquarters would replace a long-shuttered greenhouse — a behemoth of broken glass, with trees and other vegetation cascading from the rooftops.

Also in the works just adjacent to the Sportsplex fields is the Lake County World Wars I & II Veterans Memorial, which will occupy about 5 acres of the vacant land at the intersection of U.S. 231 and 113th Avenue. A major element to the memorial is the Veterans Memorial Trail planned to run from the site southwest along U.S. 231 to Hebron for 9 miles.

Uran said the Sportsplex, City Hall and other contiguous facilities would continue to hasten a stretch of the city fast becoming a gateway.

City Councilman Andrew Kyres said redevelopment of areas that have led to new uses will be remembered for transformational outcomes.

"Collectively, our goal is to enhance the quality of life for all of our residents so that Crown Point continues to be an outstanding place to live, work and recreate," he said.

Crossroads to quality of life

Other vacant land slated for quality of life development is a 2-acre site along West Street near Wheeler Middle School, just west of the downtown square.

It's planned as the home for Bulldog Park, including a two-story, multifunction event center, an Olympic-size ice rink, amphitheater for concerts and theater performances and splash pads.

Bulldog Park also will be home to the city's festivals and car cruises and the new home for senior activities, which are currently at the city's downtown Civic Center. They will move to the park's event center, which is designed to be about 16,000 square feet, or 8,000 square feet per floor.

Uran said once that is done, the city will decide what to do with the current Civic Center, but chances are it will be torn down for commercial development in central downtown.

"It's served its purpose, but it's older and out of date," he said.

About 2 miles south of that site, another major project seeks to make Crown Point a quality of life crossroads.

In September, the Southlake Family YMCA broke ground on a planned $35 million, 9-acre expansion project. 

The addition will include a 76,000-square-foot building expansion to the east side of the existing facility.

Laurie A. Halaska, CEO of the Crossroads YMCA, which operates the branches in Griffith, Hammond and Whiting in addition to the Southlake Y, said they are thrilled to be a part of this exciting time of transformation in Crown Point.

"The new Dean and Barbara White Southlake YMCA will be an important addition to the community opening in 2019 where people of all ages can gather, achieve personal success, develop stronger families and make new friends," she said. 

Success begetting success

City planners believe development successes are spreading like a contagion, in part through help of a city facade grant program.

Caroll Chevrolet, a former auto dealership occupying a large footprint on Main Street, had been shuttered and vacant since the economic downturn of the auto industry in 2009.

Earlier this year, Second Life Resale Shoppe took over the property at 1800 N. Main St. Owners received a $7,500 facade grant from the city to help spur the project.

Two city facade grants of $15,000 and $25,000 also were awarded recently to developers of the former Hub Bootery in the downtown square. 

Greg Falkowski, Crown Point chief of staff, said about $200,000 from the Redevelopment Commission's facade grant program has seeded about $3 million in private work.

The assessed value of the property goes up, and then tax rates come in and bring more dollars to the city to service other needs, Falkowski said.

Challenges remain

One challenge remaining for the city is bringing a new use to the long-shuttered Hallmark store, just north of the downtown square.

Day care business Kiddie Academy received a $25,000 facade grant from the city for its planned new site in the long-empty building.

However, petitioners for the child education center hit a roadblock on Monday when the Crown Point City Council voted against a resolution that would have made the facility eligible for a tax abatement. 

The cost for the project at Main and Summit streets initially was estimated at more than $2 million for land acquisition and structure improvements. However, after an additional entrance/exit was requested at the site, it meant higher costs no longer in the scope of the budget.

Site petitioner Rahul Patel said he appreciates the council hearing the request but is disappointed in the outcome.

"I think the council failed to see this as the win-win that it was, which would still have resulted in much greater tax revenue for the city than what the property currently generates," Patel said. "It would have been an encouraging gesture and maybe one step closer to the community seeing success on a blighted corner that has been neglected for years.”

Positive momentum

There are other projects in the works that planners consider an important addition to Crown Point and a draw for visitors.

They include the renovation of the 20,000-square-foot former nurses sanatorium on North Main Street near the Lake County Government Complex into the new home of the Indiana Ballet Theatre.

An estimated $3 million renovation of the building's three floors and basement is scheduled to begin later this year for what will be known as the Classical Arts Centre. 

Indiana Ballet Theatre founder Gloria Tuohy said the Centre will serve all ages, and local businesses will benefit because it will become a destination spot in Northwest Indiana.


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Lake County reporter

Rob covers urban affairs and other matters in Crown Point, St. John, Winfield and beyond. Previously he covered Valparaiso, Hammond, Gary and East Chicago. He's also written for various magazines and pens a culture blog for The Times.