Ecotourism is focus of Miller lakefront development plan

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Miller Beach

The future for Gary’s lakefront in the Miller neighborhood could be clearer in June if developers can satisfy the city’s request “to make the connection between nature and commercial opportunity.”

The target is 22 acres of land at the junction of Lake Street and the shoreline of Lake Michigan; it includes the former naval training center and one-time home of Charter School of the Dunes.

The city has a minimum price of $4,250,000 for acquisition and development of the property.

In the Gary Redevelopment Commission’s request for proposals to develop the property, the city will consider uses such as hotels, restaurants, unique attractions (science centers, museums, and recreational amenities), tourist-oriented retail, and pedestrian-oriented commerce.

The proposal asks developers to focus on ecotourism.

A connection to nature, tourism, and recreation is the best way to develop the property, the RFP states, highlighting the natural assets of the Indiana Dunes National Park which draws 3.5 million visitors annually to the state’s northern shores. Gary’s Miller Woods is on the westernmost edge of the park and contains the Douglas Nature Center.

A development bid could come from Meridian Hospitality Group which showed interest in the lakefront 2 years ago, in 2017, when the redevelopment commission targeted 5 of Gary’s Master Plan districts for investment from developers. Later that year, Meridian signed a memorandum of understanding with the commission and in July 2018 returned with the first phase of pre-planning for redevelopment along Miller’s Lake Street, Marquette Park and the lakefront.

Since then Meridian has met with Miller residents and heard comments from Save the Dunes, the environmental group dedicated to preserving Indiana’s Lake Michigan shorelines for recreation and public use.

The scope of development along the lakefront was reduced from 90 acres in 2017 to the 22 acres today.

Responses from developers will be opened at the June 19th commission meeting. Proposers whose bids are accepted will present their proposals the following week of June 24. The redevelopment commission will announce the award on July 17.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson announced Thursday the resignation of Joseph van Dyk, the city’s Executive Director of the Redevelop ment Commission and Director of- Planning and Zoning. The mayor selected A.J. Bytnar as the new Director of Redevelopment.

Van Dyk has served the City of Gary since 2012. During his tenure, van Dyk managed economic development initiatives, such as the relocation of Alliance Steel to Gary. He led the Gary Parcel Survey and the Gary Counts Initiative; helped oversee the city’s blight elimination program, including the Sheraton Hotel demolition and Hardest Hit Fund program; and led the Gary Comprehensive Plan update.

The mayor said van Dyk’s resignation was effective May 9, but he will stay on part-time until the completion of the Comprehensive Plan update in September.

Bytnar comes to Gary with ten years of experience in both the private and public sectors. He previously served in the economic development department in Fishers, Indiana; and served with the real estate department of the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA). He was City Planner for Hobart, Indiana and the Lake County Department of Planning; Director of Planning and Development for the city of Lowell; and has worked in private development with Edward Rose and Sons.

The RFP can also be found on the Redevelopment’s home page at https://garyin.us/redevelopment/.

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