With a population of more than 35,000, Merrillville has grown 16 percent since 2000, according to City-Data.com.

The average age of residents has declined to 38, and median household income has topped $55,000, $3,000 higher than the state average.

These trends reflect the hard work of officials from the school corporation, town council, police department, building department, and others. Their efforts are driving the improvements.

Commercial development

A program called Fight the Blight, instituted by the town council and economic development commission, focuses on redevelopment of vacant buildings, says commission member Shawn Pettit. It has identified 165 properties that needed attention.

“We have made significant progress in building occupancy,” Pettit said. “Businesses are taking advantage of our façade program to either find new locations in town or to give existing buildings a facelift.”

Manvee Real Estate Indiana LLC is one. It initiated a project to convert the former Merrillville Off-Track Betting site at 7610 Broadway into a wholesale bakery that makes and distributes baked goods to numerous Dunkin' Donuts locations.

The bakery uses 17,000 square feet of the 22,300-square-foot building. With an investment of around $1.5 million, the project is creating about 25 new jobs, and representatives for the business hope that will grow. The independent facility eventually will serve 40-50 Dunkin' stores.

Likewise, the Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters has opened a new union hall on 18 acres on Mississippi Street. “That makes a total of 14 union halls in Merrillville,” Pettit says.

A study conducted by the Lake County Regional Development Authority has identified two potential locations for a large hotel and convention center, both in Merrlllville. One is the White family property that used to house the Radisson/Star Plaza, and the other is the Century Mall location on U.S. Hwy. 30.

“We’re excited that both finalists are in our town,” Pettit says. “The convention center will be a major economic boon for the entire town, especially the U.S. 30 corridor.”

In the meantime, Home2 Suites by Hilton opened in April near I-65 and U.S. 30 and accommodates people and pets. Holladay Properties broke ground on WoodSprings Suites, a 4-story, 123-room extended stay hotel at 1500 E. 83rd Ave. in June with a March 2019 completion target.  “These hotels are a very welcome addition to Merrillville,” Pettit says.

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Among other growing concerns, the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana this summer left a 12,000-square-foot facility in Gary for 72,000 square feet at 6490 Broadway to expand its reach in Lake and Porter Counties.

Residential growth

So far in 2018, permits for 37 new homes have been issued, according to Building Director Sheila Shine. New homes are going up in Madison Meadows (Broadway and U.S. 30), Foxmoor (on the old Broadmoor Country Club land), and Prairie Creek (Whitcomb Street and 73rd Avenue). At Hunter’s Glen North, at Merrillville Road and 84th Drive, four new duplexes have been built, and two multifamily townhomes are now in place.

“We are seeing a steady increase in the demand for new or relatively new homes in Merrillville,” Pettit says. “This is an affordable town, it’s union and worker friendly, and we are a very diverse and inclusive community.”

The new home development estimated to cost more than $8 million to construct adds to the property taxes collected. “Additional families mean more money for our schools and our police and fire departments,” Pettit says.

All that construction translates into jobs and a bump in the economy. “We always encourage developers to look for local candidates,” Pettit says. “Additionally, many local businesses benefit from the construction boom, from coffee shops to diners to hardware stores.”

Education and safety

The Merrillville School Corp. emphasizes excellence every day. School Superintendent Nick Brown and the board have partnered with students, educators, families, and community to meet the district’s mission.

John Wood Elementary and Jonas Salk Elementary schools have seen an increase in rating of 7/10 from GreatSchools, which provides rankings and information on school programs. At Wood, student progress is a 10/10.

Merrillville Police Chief Joseph Petruch credits his hard-working force with reducing crime in town in 2017. In January, Petruch told the Town Council that residential burglaries had dropped to 40 in 2017 from 85 in 2016.

Petruch attributed the reduction to aggressive patrols by his officers. He told the council that the police department has emphasized hitting streets and remaining visible through the enforcement of traffic laws.