SCHERERVILLE — Walking trails, coffee shops, a sports complex, community gardens, even a go-kart track.
These are a few of the ideas residents pitched during a public hearing Wednesday on the future use of the Illiana Motor Speedway land. The former stock-car race track, which operated for seven decades, has sat empty since 2016. The town purchased the property just off U.S. 30, near Rohrman Park, in June 2016.
Town Council President Tom Schmitt, D-4, said the town owns just under 60 acres and has discussed buying some of the adjacent properties.
Schmitt said the COVID-19 pandemic "stalled" efforts to develop the land. Initial ideas involved developing a commercial business park, but after public backlash, plans changed.
People are also reading…
Now the town is "committed to bringing recreation to the property," he said.
About 60 residents attended the meeting, which was held as a joint study session between the Town Council and the Schererville Park Board. Participants were invited to fill out a survey, available on the computer and on paper, while residents spoke.
"We have this beautiful blank canvas that we can do whatever we want with, and that's one of the reasons why this has gone so slowly is, we want to do it right," Park Board member Brad Bassick said.
The survey featured a wide array of potential features: a bandshell, basketball courts, a golf course, baseball fields, softball fields, a pool, a BMX bike track, field hockey, an arboretum, a multipurpose stadium, a soccer field, an ice rink, public art, volleyball courts, tennis courts, a playground, a skate park, a water park, a dog park, multi-use trails, a sportsplex, pickleball courts and a botanical garden.
Residents were asked to select their top 10 amenities; they also could submit their own ideas using the "other" comment box.
Attendees made a number of suggestions, but most of the speakers seemed to agree: Schererville does not need any more strip malls.
Instead, residents suggested creating a pavilion for town events, similar to Bulldog Park in Crown Point, adding walking paths, creating an indoor recreation space where people can stay active during the winter, and maybe even adding some coffee shops or restaurants along U.S. 30.
Representatives from the Tri-Town Raiders Pop Warner Youth Football and Cheer program said they'd like to see the land used for youth sports. The Tri-Town Raiders football field, 1200 Kennedy Ave., is being displaced as part of the Kennedy Avenue expansion.
"The organization is over 30 years old and I'd hate to see it die because a road is going through it," Tri-Town Vice President Nick Vevers said.
Multiple speakers said they would like to see ample green space maintained at the property. Several said they would like to see the historic race track honored in some way.
The town will continue to collect public comment throughout June. Residents can submit suggestions at schererville.org/contact/. Schmitt said the town is also considering sending out a paper copy of the survey with the water bill.
"We're not just going to have a conversation and then forget what we talked about," Councilman Kevin Connelly, R-2, said. "We are going to consider the top three, top five, and then look at how we're going to finance the project."
In February, the Town Council heard development proposals from American Structurepoint Engineering and the Northern League.
The Northern League, an independent minor baseball league with such teams as the Lake County Corn Dogs and the Northwest Indiana Oilmen, pitched using the land for a multipurpose stadium that could be used for baseball, town events and concerts.
Representatives from American Structurepoint presented what they called the Schererville Sports Park. The engineering firm said the actual design of the park would be determined after a series of community-input sessions.
Whatever the Illiana is used for, ensuring that the town has the capacity and money to maintain it will be important. Superintendent of Parks John Novacich said the property is a "much bigger animal" than anything the town has. Councilman Rob Guetzloff, D-3, said the area will probably be the last large piece of land the town develops.
Schmitt said the Park Board and the Town Council will look through the survey results at the start of July, meet to craft a plan and then put out a Request for Qualifications later in the summer.
"This town is your town, it belongs to you and that's why we had this meeting so that we can listen to your opinions, gather information and make the right decisions," Guetzloff said.