White Lodging is prepared to embark on a $356 million project at Interstate 65 and U.S. 30 in Merrillville that would include a meeting and event center, hotels, restaurants, an office building, townhomes, condominiums and other amenities on 40 acres at Northwest Indiana's most prominent interstate interchange.
The Farm at Crossroad Commons would replace White Lodging's former Radisson Hotel and Star Plaza Theatre, as well as its still-standing Twin Towers office complex.
"This project will serve as a long-standing anchor for economic development and a true transformational destination for visitors to the Region — just as the Radisson and Star Plaza Theater did for so many years," White Lodging Chairman Bruce White said.
The company said it would cover two-thirds of the project's cost. It is asking municipal, county and state governments to contribute the other third.
Deno Yiankes, White Lodging president and CEO for investments and development, said the proposal is a worthy successor to the former hotel and theater.
"This really is something that we believe has the potential to have another 40-year impact on the Region," Yiankes said. "It's going to take the will of the community to get it done."
The Farm at Crossroad Commons
White Lodging's 2016 decision to demolish the Radisson and Star Plaza, followed in 2017 by the announcement it would raze the Twin Towers, has left the Region wondering what would come next for the northwest quadrant of one of the area's busiest interchanges.
Yiankes said the motivation for The Farm at Crossroad Commons is to honor the legacy of Dean White, the "founding father" of the companies bearing his name.
"Knowing how much he had a passion for Northwest Indiana, we wanted to do something with transformational impact," he said.
Bruce White called it "a once-in-a generation opportunity that pays homage to my father’s legacy and the White Family’s continued investment in Northwest Indiana."
Land planning consultants told White Lodging executives that simply replacing the old Radisson with a modern hotel wouldn't provide a cohesive identity to the site, and recommended looking at it "more holistically," Yiankes recalled.
"We spent the last year and a half thinking, 'What if we could do something transformational for the Region?' " he said.
The result is a plan that calls for 1.2 million square feet of built space, including:
• An 80,500-square-foot meeting and event center, with a 43,500-square-foot exhibit hall and various other spaces for meeting and events and 24,000 square feet of "unique outdoor social areas."
• Four hotels with 520 guest rooms. One hotel, "a premium brand," would have 225 guest rooms, with a ballroom and break-out space for meetings. Two other hotels would have a combined 250 rooms, and a boutique bed-and-breakfast would offer 45 guest rooms.
• 108,000 square feet of class A office space. Yiankes said the company hopes to attract new businesses to Northwest Indiana with the office building.
"We think it offers a strong opportunity to bring in some new companies," he said.
• 1,300 parking spaces in a below-grade garage covering 475,000 square feet spread beneath the central portion of the development.
"If you have a bunch of surface parking, you don't get the town center-type feeling we're trying to create," Yiankes said.
He also said access to the site would be in the same place on U.S. 30 but would be more direct than it is now.
"It would bring you right into the spine of the development," he said, either to get to the garage or to the headquarters hotel.
• 18 townhouse units and 32 condominiums, for a total of 60,000 square feet of housing. Yiankes said the residential component offers a chance for people to live at a "town center," something lacking in the immediate area.
• A visitors center and greenhouse, occupying nearly 25,000 square feet. The greenhouse would operate year-round, would offer a strong educational component, and would be used in an effort to promote a more healthy lifestyle among Region residents, Yiankes said.
• An art gallery and studios of about 4,600 square feet. The Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation would sponsor residencies for artists in any discipline, Yiankes said, in an effort to support the arts and promote them to the community.
"We think that's a good extension of what the theater had done all those years," he said.
• Two restaurants and a microbrewery and distillery totaling nearly 19,000 square feet.
• A horse-riding arena of 30,000 square feet, adjacent to the event center.
The combination of amenities would provide reason for visitors to spend extra time in the Region, Yiankes said.
"If we activate it with all these varying uses, there's reason for them to linger, to stay another two, three days," he said.
Economic impact and financing
"The big win here is not only the transformational nature of it," Yiankes said. "We're going to bring in a thousand jobs, and over 600 construction jobs during the three-year build-out."
The company is also projecting, over a 10-year period:
• $45 million in new property tax revenue
• $26 million in new income tax revenue
• $25 million in new sales tax and innkeepers tax revenue
• $650 million gross in new salaries and wages
White Lodging intends to spend $237 million to cover two-thirds of the project's cost.
The company will ask Merrillville to provide $30 million in tax increment financing revenue by expanding its Century/Broadway TIF district to include White's site north of U.S. 30. The district is currently entirely south of U.S. 30.
And White Lodging will ask the state for support from two sources. It will ask the General Assembly for 100 percent of the state innkeepers tax collected from the project's hotels for the first 25 years they're in business, an estimated $18 million.
And, the company will ask for either $15 million from the state's Community Reinvestment Enhancement District program, which would require legislative approval, or $12.5 million from a package of other incentive programs that do not require legislative approval.
A Community Reinvestment Enhancement District, or CReED, would capture sales and personal income tax revenue in the district. It would have a 15-year term, with a maximum of $1 million per year.
The largest contribution would come from Lake County, in the form of 75 percent of the proceeds of a 1 percent food and beverage tax. The company will ask for $75 million total. It notes that a 1-percent tax would produce an estimated $9.4 million in 2019.
Yiankes said discussions with town and state officials have generated positive response, and the company is engaging with county officials about the food and beverage tax.
"Our intent is to gauge the will of the county to see if they want to get on board," Yiankes said. "We think in the coming weeks we'll get a really good read on that."
Convention center study
White Lodging's plan comes less than three months after publication of a study on the feasibility of a convention center in Lake County. The study ranked the I-65 and U.S. 30 site highest among nine it evaluated.
The plan for The Farm at Crossroad Commons approximates that study's recommendations in many ways, though Yiankes pointed out that White Lodging's planning has been under development for two years, and the company is presenting the overall development as something more than a response to the convention center study.
That study was prepared by the consulting firm CSL International and funded by the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority. It was made public in early July and has garnered interest from several communities and developers, said South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority President and CEO Speros Batistatos.
He said he's spoken with several developers about other sites in the study.
"There are at least three others that will be competing for this pot of money," Batistatos said. "It's early."
The SSCVA has supported expansion of Lake County's available meeting space for two decades, he said.
"Anytime a developer is interested in spending hundreds of millions of dollars in our community, to invest in our industry, of course that's a good thing," Batistatos said. "The question becomes, if there's going to be a public-private partnership, that has to be outlined in a process that, in my mind, hasn't been outlined. The county must establish a process by which these competing bids will be evaluated and ranked."
White Lodging's proposal reports that it will have committed more than $6 million to redevelopment of its property through 2018, with an additional $13.7 million planned for 2019.
Redevelopment began with demolition of the Radisson Hotel in 2017. The process continued with acquisition of the neighboring Dairy Queen property that year.
Demolition of the Twin Towers will be completed by the end of this year, Yiankes said. Professional fees fill out the remainder of the $6.1 million to be spent by the end of the year.
The 2019 expenses are projected to be $13.7 million, including potential acquisition of a gas station, the former Denny's restaurant and the Old Chicago restaurant and bar properties. Professional fees in 2019 are expected to grow to $6.7 million, and other preparatory expenses and site work are estimated at $2 million.
Yiankes said the company hopes to begin construction work on The Farm at Crossroad Commons next year.
He said that if the project doesn't come to fruition, White Lodging likely will build one or two hotels on the site and keep the rest as greenspace. And, he said, the White family will maintain its business and philanthropic commitment to Northwest Indiana either way.
But they hope to do the full project.
"This is something special, and we hope we can get the support," Yiankes said.
A woman led police on a high-speed chase with three passengers, including a 6-month-old child, in her vehicle on a busy northbound Interstate 65 shortly after lunch Wednesday, Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez said.
And one of the passengers, a man in the car, dialed 911 during the chase, asking police to end the pursuit so the driver, Christina Dodd, 33, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, could pull over and let the passengers leave the vehicle, the sheriff said.
The chase began south of Lowell and ended near mile-marker 254 north of U.S. 30, Martinez said.
A sheriff's squad car began pursuing Dodd's vehicle shortly after noon when it was seen following other vehicles too closely and making unsafe lane changes, the sheriff said.
Martinez said his officers will be meeting with prosecutors Thursday to discuss charges of fleeing police, endangerment and illegal possession of opioids against Dodd.
While being pursued northbound on I-65 from Lowell, Dodd's vehicle traveled at dangerous speeds, at times rode on the shoulder of the road and ducked in and out of traffic, Martinez said.
Dodd also swerved the car around roadway spikes police attempted to use to disable it, police said.
Ultimately, a series of police vehicles were used to create a roving roadblock that forced Dodd to the side of the road where she was arrested, Martinez said.
The three passengers — another female, the male and the 6-month-old child — were released from the scene and were not injured in the chase.
Martinez said in addition to any local charges, Dodd also is wanted on active warrants in Milwaukee for endangerment and eluding police and in Cook County for resisting law enforcement.
Martinez said the Cook County warrant also lists Dodd as being suspected of being armed and dangerous.
Dodd was being held Wednesday night in the Lake County Jail, with a pending extradition case to Milwaukee, Martinez said.
Cook County authorities also were being alerted of her arrest Wednesday, the sheriff said.
A vehicle crashed into a house Wednesday evening on Rosemary Court in Dyer, sending the driver to a trauma center at a local hospital.
The car went into the north side of the home, according to Dyer Fire Chief Thad Stutler, with half of the vehicle inside of a common area of the residence.
Police said there were residents inside of the home at the time of the wreck, but no one was injured.
The driver was described as an elderly female and her condition is unknown, officials said.
She was taken to Franciscan Health Crown Point.
The Crown Point Fire Department was on scene to assist the injured driver and remove the vehicle from the home. The Lake County Sheriffs accident re-construction team was also on scene to aid in the investigation.
The story is developing, check back at nwi.com for more details.
HOBART — People ran, others stood still and cars poured out of the Walmart parking lot Sunday as police Cpl. Kevin Garber Jr. pulled up in response to a report of an active shooter.
A man waved the Hobart police officer down, telling him, "There's a kid shot. There's a kid shot."
Garber parked his squad car and ran toward where the man was directing him, where he could see a 9-year-old boy under an SUV.
"I saw his legs from underneath the vehicle," Garber said. "I could see a bullet hole, a wound, in his back.
"I put my hand underneath his chest, because I knew I didn't want to move him too much, and that's when I felt the larger wound."
The boy also had a gunshot wound to his torso, he said.
Garber, a 6.5-year police veteran who served two tours in Iraq with the Marines, said his military combat lifesaving training kicked in. The goal is to sweep for wounds and treat the largest ones.
Garber radioed dispatch that he had located a juvenile victim. Other officers began to arrive at his location. Seeing Garber had the situation under control, the other officers continued their search for more victims and suspects.
A chaotic scene
Inside the Walmart, the boy's 25-year-old father crawled to a clothing area, unable to walk because of gunshot wounds to his leg.
Off-duty Gary police Officer Keon Parker, who was shopping with his family, secured his family in a storage closet, located the boy's father and disarmed the father's friend, who reportedly had returned fire during a gunfight just outside the the store.
Dozens of store customers took cover, some climbing onto shelves and hiding behind pillows.
Walmart employees, who recently completed active shooter training, helped customers shelter in break rooms and other areas of the store.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the 9-year-old victim," company spokesman Payton McCormick said.
Walmart was thankful for the quick response by employees and has been cooperating with police, he said.
The boy remained in critical condition Wednesday. His father, a documented gang member who has been shot three separate times since June, was in stable condition, police said.
Alex C. Hughes, 26, of Gary, allegedly a member of a rival gang, was charged Tuesday with two felony counts of attempted murder, aggravated battery and criminal gang activity. He remained at large Wednesday.
Hobart police Lt. James Gonzales said the first officer arrived at Walmart within a minute and police entered Walmart within three minutes.
"You just don't get more efficient than that," he said. "These guys train for hours and hours. It's second nature for them to take that action."
While employees and customers sheltered inside the store, Walmart staff asked anyone who saw or heard anything to fill out witness statements. The company shared those forms with police, Gonzales said.
'Doing a lot of good'
While Garber helped the boy, other officers went inside Walmart, not yet knowing where the shooters had gone.
Every officer, and the medics who risked their own safety to respond, were "doing a lot of good out there that night," Garber said.
"I wasn't the only one that had a critical part," he said. "I just so happened to be closest to the kid. Other guys did things just as critical as I did."
Despite the chaos, Garber remained focused on the boy and trusted other officers to locate additional victims or suspects.
"I knew the ambulance was on the other end of Walmart, and people were still running around," he said. "The fastest way to get him to the ambulance was to just pick him up and run. We were still trying to gain control of everything."
The boy was writhing in pain, so Garber bear hugged him.
"When I did that, he kind of relaxed with me. I didn't want to hurt him anymore," he said. "I kept pressure on with my hand."
As he ran with the boy, another officer approached and asked where to apply pressure.
"I said, 'Just hold him,'" Garber recalled. "I knew where the wounds were, and I had pressure on already. That way we weren't losing that."
After placing the boy in the ambulance, Garber went back out and assisted other officers.
"I'm just glad I was able to help and hopefully give the kid a chance," he said.
INDIANAPOLIS — Student performance on the Spring 2018 ISTEP standardized exam dipped slightly for both elementary and high school test takers compared to the prior academic year.
Statewide, the percentage of students in grades 3 through 8 who passed both the English/language arts and mathematics exams fell to 50.7 percent, versus 51.4 percent in Spring 2017.
The results show elementary student scores dropped across the board, including a 1.1 percent decline in English/language arts for a 64.1 percent pass rate, a 0.2 percent drop in math for a 58.3 percent pass rate, a 5.3 percent drop in 4th and 6th grade science for a combined pass rate of 57.9 percent, and a 4.9 percent drop in 5th and 7th grade social studies for a 58.6 percent pass rate.
Among high school sophomores, just 33.7 percent passed both the English/language arts and math exams, down 0.6 percent from the Spring 2017 result.
Grade 10 student scores fell statewide 1.6 percent in English/language arts for a 58.9 percent pass rate, declined 0.6 percent in math for a 36.2 percent pass rate and dropped 5 percent in science for a 52.1 percent pass rate.
Jennifer McCormick, the Republican state superintendent of public instruction, in a statement characterized those results as "stable," while she also highlighted slight improvements in 8th grade English/language arts scores and 3rd grade math results.
"ISTEP is one of the many tools Indiana uses to measure student achievement and this year's results indicate we are moving in the right direction," McCormick said.
"Indiana's classrooms are full of dedicated educators who spend each day preparing our children for academic success, and I am grateful for their hard work."
Many Region schools top state averages
Numerous Northwest Indiana school districts outperformed the statewide averages on both English/language arts and math.
In Lake County, elementary students at Crown Point Community School Corp. tallied the highest pass rate for English/language arts at 87.6 percent.
Though Crown Point's second-highest 79.1 percent math pass rate for Lake County was bested by Cedar Lake's Hanover Community School Corp. at 81.2 percent. Hanover also saw 8 in 10 elementary students pass the English/language arts exam.
Teresa Eineman, superintendent at Crown Point schools, said the district's results are about much more than those numbers, they're about children "believing their dreams to be real."
"As dream-makers, our professional educators, staff and leaders use data lenses to clearly see the needs of each child, prescribe high impact strategies, assess progress learning and repeat until graduation day," Eineman said.
East Porter County School Corp. notched the Region's highest elementary English/language arts pass rate at 88.7 percent, along with a math pass rate of 76 percent.
The top Region elementary math pass rate of 85.6 percent was achieved by students in Union Township School Corp., also in Porter County. Its English/language arts pass rate was 86.7 percent.
Other Northwest Indiana school districts with top pass rates on the elementary exams included: Valparaiso (86.9 percent English/81.7 percent math); Munster (83.2 percent English/75.8 percent math); Duneland (82.8 percent English/74 percent math); Lake Central (82.4 percent English/74.8 percent math); Tri-Creek (79.6 percent English/67 percent math); Diocese of Gary (79.4 percent English/67.3 percent math); Hobart (78.2 percent English/69.1 percent math); Griffith (76.6 percent English/69.6 percent math); and New Prairie (76.4 percent English/75.6 percent math).
Valparaiso Community Schools Superintendent Julie Lauck said: "We are very pleased with the work of our students and our staff on the Spring ISTEP. We are proud of what has been achieved and the hard work reflected in the scores."
For 10th grade English/language arts, Munster topped all comers with an 87.5 percent pass rate, followed by Valparaiso at 78 percent, Diocese of Gary 77.6 percent, Hobart 76 percent, Crown Point 74.5 percent, South Central 73.5 percent and East Porter 71.4 percent.
Munster also took the 10th grade math crown with a 60.1 percent pass rate. Only Valparaiso (54.7 percent) and Duneland (50.3 percent) also saw more students pass the exam than fail it.
Yvonne Stokes, assistant superintendent at Munster schools, attributed the district's favorable ISTEP results to "the work and dedication our families, students and staff provide to support student academic progress."
"We know that there is still much work to be done to ensure all our students demonstrate mastery of the Indiana Academic Standards," Stokes said.
Others have room to grow
Some of the lowest ISTEP elementary scores in Northwest Indiana were recorded in the School City of East Chicago, which had a 25 percent pass rate for English/language arts and 24.1 percent pass rate for math.
Gary Community Schools (31.7 percent English/17.4 percent math), Tri-Township (45 English/28.6 math) and many of the charter schools in East Chicago and Gary also produced lackluster ISTEP results for grades 3 through 8.
Among high school students, fewer than 4 in 10 passed the English/language arts exam and fewer than 2 in 10 passed the math test in the following districts: East Chicago, Gary, Hammond, Lake Ridge New Tech, Lake Station, Michigan City and several Region charter schools.
Peggy Hinckley, emergency manager for Gary schools, said she sees the test scores as a baseline for the district, which last year was taken over by the state due to financial issues, from which to grow as it implements building changes and innovative learning strategies aimed at improving the city's schools.
"We have invested over $2 million in new technology and continue to invest in programs to meet the needs of our students," Hinckley said. "We know our teachers are working diligently to provide quality instruction for all children."
"While our challenges are great, our determination to improve student results is greater."
Michigan City Superintendent Barbara Eason-Wakins noted that ISTEP scores in her district remained steady "with the exception of our high school, which saw a decline despite continued improvement on other college and career readiness indicators."
"We don't believe these scores truly reflect the quality of learning and instruction at our high school," she said. "We are working with state instructional specialists to better align our curriculum to the state standards, so that sophomores are better prepared to show what they know."
This was the last time that Indiana elementary school students are being evaluated using ISTEP.
A new ILEARN exam is scheduled to debut in Spring 2019 in the hope of permanently moving away from the technical glitches and scoring delays associated with ISTEP.
High school sophomores will continue taking ISTEP through spring 2020, after which it is set to be replaced by a national college entrance exam, such as the ACT or SAT, taken by juniors to fulfill a graduation requirement beginning in the 2021-22 school year.