Economic development is necessary for any community to thrive.
And officials in Hammond, Whiting and East Chicago are doing their part to bring residential and commercial projects home to enhance the quality of life for residents.
The city saw the Lear Corp. move into its new $30 million plant this year, and work continues for the Digital Crossroads data center at the former State Line Generating Plant.
The data center is initially a $40 million project, with the potential to grow to a $200 million investment, Hammond Economic Development Director Anne Anderson said.
Hammond also is attracting interest from others businesses looking at opening locations in the city.
“We are also working with a handful of companies hopping the border from (Illinois), who recognize the advantages of working and living in Indiana and feel Hammond is a great place to establish new roots,” Anderson said.
Assisting with the growth of businesses isn't the only focus of the Economic Development Department.
“Promoting events, continuously connecting bike trails, building pedestrian bridges across busy streets and supporting the arts and entertainment in Hammond is huge,” Anderson said.
She described the city's Sportsplex as one such economic driver. She said the facility at 6630 Indianapolis Blvd. is attracting thousands of visitors to the city, and some are seeing Hammond for the first time.
“These people will stay at our hotels and eat at our restaurants and shop at our stores,” Anderson said.
The Sportsplex opened on the former Woodmar Mall site last fall with six basketball courts, 12 volleyball courts, artificial turf fields and batting cages.
The site next to the Sportsplex also is gaining attention.
Anderson said the former Carson Pirie Scott property adjacent to the facility could be receiving new life.
“We are now reviewing proposals for a new, multi-use development that is dynamic and vibrant and complementary to the exciting new growth the Sportsplex is creating,” Anderson said.
The Stadium District has been a focus in Whiting.
The area near the downtown, Oil City Stadium, BP employment and lakefront amenities is attractive for a variety of reasons.
“It contained our oldest housing stock and commercial buildings,” said Bruce Stolman, director of economic and community development in Whiting. “Though it was a terrific, unique neighborhood at one time, because of its age, many structures had fallen into disrepair or had become rental properties.”
Whiting purchased many parcels in the Stadium District. Several residential buildings have been demolished, with more to be razed, Stolman said.
“At this point, the (Redevelopment Commission) has acquired most of the Stadium District properties needed for facilitating new mixed-use residential/commercial development,” he said.
Stolman said the city also is seeking redevelopment of several parcels along Indianapolis Boulevard, some of which could become single-family homes.
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“The fruits of these redevelopment efforts should begin to appear in a little over a year, as residential units are constructed and become occupied,” Stolman said.
Stolman said Whiting will see a variety of benefits from this development. As the population grows, the per capita cost of government services will drop. The city's tax base also will receive a boost from the new construction.
“Overall, these developments should contribute to a quality of place that makes the community more desirable, rewarding and retaining our current residents, while attracting new ones,” Stolman said.
As Whiting works to bring new development to the city, Illiana-Whiting LLC, a division of Holladay Properties, continues construction of a new five-story multi-use building at the former Illiana Hotel property, at 119th Street and Atchison Avenue. Construction could finish in July of 2020.
The ground floor faces 119th Street in an area zoned for commercial space so it can accommodate several store units.
The remaining four floors will have two-bedroom apartments, with up to 13 of the 32 units set aside for Calumet College's foreign exchange students, Stolman said. The other units will be leased at market rates.
The city is gearing up for a major senior housing project.
City Planner Marino Solorio said construction could get underway in late summer or early fall for the more than 200-unit development on the former Carson Manor property near Main and Guthrie Streets.
The estimated cost of the project is nearly $40 million, Solorio said.
The project is a partnership between the developer, DTM Real Estate Services, and the East Chicago Housing Authority under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Rental Assistance Demonstration program.
The $4 million Fitzsimmons development along Main Street also is expected to open this summer. The three-story building will include townhomes, apartments, restaurants, retail and professional offices.
City officials are working to bring more projects to town and taking a more aggressive approach to help developers find sites in the community, Solorio said.
He said the city owns several empty lots that are ready for construction. When entities approach city officials to inquire about potential sites for development, the city lets them know “we have it,” Solorio said.
He said East Chicago also has collaborated with McColly Real Estate to market the city-owned parcels.
East Chicago also is helping businesses enhance and upgrade the exterior of their properties through two facade grant programs.
In the downtown area, property owners can receive up to 80 percent of the cost of a facade rehabilitation.
“A lot of people are buying into that program,” Solorio said.
Outside of the downtown, property owners can receive 50/50 facade grants.
Solorio said people are using the grants to install new windows, doors, lighting and signage.