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Bonjour Marquette Park!

Gary Crusader Staff Report

It could be the scene out of a Hollywood movie. Sunbathers frolicking on a posh French resort on a beachfront lined with chic hotels, haute couture shops, exquisite eateries and jazzy nightclubs. But instead of France, the scene could be far west across the Atlantic, where one developer is dreaming of transforming Marquette Park into the French Riviera playground for the jet set.

But wait, another developer is also eyeing Gary’s most picturesque park to create an idyllic waterfront harbor complete with a hotel and a Ferris Wheel.

The proposal was one of several that raised eyebrows during four hours of presentations from developers on Thursday, March 30 in the council chambers. The Redevelopment Commission and the Gary Economic Development Corporation hosted the meeting. Developers from across the country pitched proposals to build projects that would be located in five of Gary’s Master Plan districts the city has targeted for redevelopment.

With glossy images and bold plans, the proposals stirred the imagination of Joseph Van Dyk, Gary’s Redevelopment Commission Director. Van Dyk said the developers’ views validated the hard work the commission has put in over past years.

“All the data we’ve gathered, all the thoughts we put in to make sure we have genuine engagement with people, so what we do and what we ask developers to do reflects priorities of businesses,” Van Dyk explained. “All the demolition, all the planning validates a lot of the hard work we’ve put in to make sure we present our city in a way that shows its possibilities.”

While developers aim to reshape parts of Gary’s landscape, Marquette Park remains the darling for some ambitious ideas.

In a stunning, jaw-dropping proposal to Gary’s planning and development department, Meridian Hospitality & Construction proposed for Marquette Park and its beachfront a hotel, retail and entertainment establishments stretching along a boardwalk. Meridian’s design showed a launch for boats, a Ferris wheel, museum and visitors center. Byron Dillard, Meridian CEO, said their plan follows the model of the National Harbor on the Wash., D.C. waterfront.

Meridian brought in a 20-man team with backgrounds in architecture and engineering, public relations, financing, hotel development, construction, housing and commercial development to present their bold concept. Among them was James L. Witt, the FEMA director under President Bill Clinton. Witt Global Partners brings infrastructure and global financing expertise. Renascent Hospitality president Scott Somerville said his company would work with hotel parent companies or independent hoteliers for development and management. “We acquire the hotel franchises, develop, construct and manage it,” Scott said.

In another proposal, Ellen Rhodes from East Lake Management and Development Corp. from Chicago, said Gary’s Miller Beach can be turned into something that resembles Cannes, long a small hip city on the French Rivera that attracts A list celebrities to its annual ultra-exclusive namesake film festival.

Rhodes said currently, the Miller neighborhood lacks quality restaurants it needs to attract visitors. Rhodes said the area needs amenities built so that building a hotel in the neighborhood could be economically feasible.

Also in the Miller area, a transportation oriented district targets redevelopment for the South Shore Rail Station at Lake Street. A second redevelopment area in Miller is the Gary Lakefront, Marquette Park and Beach district. The Habitat Company, developer of Presidential Towers and numerous other housing and commercial real estate projects in Chicago set their sights on the University Park Area. Habitat’s president Matthew Fiascone and vice president Charlton Hamer said the area is ripe for a mix of residential and commercial projects. The Gary Housing Authority employed Habitat to demolish Ivanhoe Public Housing several years ago.

Turnstone Development offered its experience as an affordable housing developer. Presentations were also made by East Lake Management and Development Corp. and Tandem Ventures.

The director of the Gary Economic Development Corp., Bo Kemp, said no decisions have been made nor timelines set. “We are moving to get to the place where we can establish an intent to work with these developers.”

When asked by resident Andrew Young, “How will you respond to the pushback from Miller residents who take their beaches and dunes pretty seriously?” – Kemp said the developers will go through the normal requirement to adhere to the zoning and environmental process and review by multiple agencies in the city and by the public.

Van Dyk said his commission plans to do more outreach in Gary’s Marshalltown and Midtown areas. “I’ve talked with councilwomen Rogers and Barnes-Caldwell. We’re going into the schools and holding panels on redevelopment.”

In the Glen Park area, a redevelopment proposal was presented for the University Park and University Park East district that contains areas near Indiana University and Ivy Tech Community College.

The Gary Northside Redevelopment Initiative combines the three neighborhoods of Horace Mann, Downtown and Emerson.

The fifth area that’s available for redevelopment is the Light Industrial District, defined as the area bounded by Lake Street to the west, the South Shore commuter rail line to the north, County Line Road to the east and the Lake Station boundary to the south. Highway 20 bisects the area from west to east.

Jackie from the 411 contributed to this report.

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