Investments are putting Michigan City on the map
Outside investors see confidence in the city’s future, Meer said.
BY DOUG ROSS – NWI Times – Mar 18, 2018
Economic development professionals across the Region could take a lesson from what Clarence Hulse and Ron Meer are doing in Michigan City. Hulse, executive director of Michigan City Economic Development Corp., and Mayor Ron Meer connect the dots between public investment and private development, putting them on a map of the city to make the relationship easier to see. Put them together, and you’re talking big money being pumped into Michigan City. “The city is spending money, and it’s attracting private investment,” Hulse said. Outside investors see confidence in the city’s future through all these public and private sector investments, Meer said.
Between the two, nearly $1 billion in tangible development has been seen in Michigan City in recent years. That’s not promised projects, which might or might not materialize. These are projects either in progress or complete. “You lose track, over six or seven years, because you finish one project and then you’re on to the next,” Meer said. It’s an exciting time for economic development in Michigan City, a municipality hammered by factories closing in the past few decades. “The floodgates have been opened,” Hulse said.
Brought in by rail
Within the next few months, Northwest Indiana should hear whether federal money will be pouring into the South Shore Line double-tracking project that promises to reduce travel time between Michigan City and Chicago. The project will be a game-changer for Michigan City, solidifying its place within commuting distance of the Loop. Over the past year, Hulse has heard from developers looking for options within five to 10 blocks of the train station. They know the city is poised to grow. As that happens, Michigan City will need to make sure development happens in a way that preserves the views of Lake Michigan attracting so many tourists to the city. What Michigan City needs as much as tourism is new residents.
Chicagoans already are moving to Michigan City, Meer said. The reason behind the push for additional residents is simple. Michigan City has attracted restaurants like Starbucks and Panera Bread that wouldn’t normally locate in a municipality with Michigan City’s demographics, but tourism data lured them anyway. To draw even more businesses, though, Michigan City needs to attract residents who will boost the city’s average income. There are signs this is happening. “Property values are up in every sector of the city,” Meer said, and per-capita income is up as well. The Michigan City Promise is much like Hammond’s College Bound scholarship program, offering to pay up to $5,000 a year for college or trade school tuition for the sons and daughters of the city’s homeowners. “We want you to get a higher level skill post-high school,” Hulse said.
There are million-dollar homes along Lakeshore Drive, and there are inexpensive homes in neighborhoods like the one surrounding the Indiana State Prison on the city’s northwest corner. But to make Michigan City more palatable to new residents, it needs more middle-income housing, priced in the $100,000 to $300,000 range. “There is a need for more modern housing in Michigan City,” Hulse said. Luxury apartments are planned at the site of the old Memorial Hospital, now razed, between Michigan Boulevard and Pine Street. The Michigan Boulevard corridor is ripe for development.
Businesses are investing in Michigan City because the city is investing in itself. So much is happening, in fact, that Meer said the city might have to add staff to deal with all of this development. The former site of Zorn Brewery on York Street, just a block from Michigan Boulevard, is being turned into a hotel and spa. In the 500 acres the city is annexing on its east side, higher-end homes are planned, along with two industrial parks. Those industrial parks are needed. Michigan City has old factories that remain vacant, but it needs new buildings as well, like the one on Cleveland Street that opened just last month. In this global economy, higher ceilings are sought so machinery and products can be stacked higher than before. Old buildings with lower ceilings are obsolete for the most part.