Eight years ago, in May 2002, a sampling of elected and appointed officials
from Porter County, along with a good mix of businesspeople, took a bus tour
of some of the development hot spots in the county: the AmeriPlex in
Portage, the Eastport Centre in Valparaiso, and Coffee Creek Center in
The basic message of that tour: partnership. Economic development, that is
to say, is not a zero-sum game in which one municipality wins and the others
all lose but rather a collaborative effort, in which every municipality is a
stakeholder and dollars know no border.
It was a good message and the Chesterton Tribune editorialized at the
time in favor of a more regional, less parochial approach to economic
Yet looking back, it may not be all that surprising that the Tri-Towners on
the bus that day returned to their home turf and continued to tend their own
gardens, as they always have, without regard for—and sometimes with rank
suspicion of—what their neighbors across the tracks or down the road were
doing. For one thing, the immediate relevance of AmeriPlex or Eastport to
Duneland wasn’t altogether obvious then and still isn’t. For another, bad
blood among the Tri-Towns has tended historically to run deep.
But things are different now. For the last two years or so—really since Mark
Chamberlain’s tenure as president—the Chesterton / Dune-land Chamber of
Commerce has aggressively pursued a big-tent policy aimed at bundling,
coordinating, and leveraging the Tri-Towns’ business interests, with a view
to marketing Duneland as a single developable entity on the cusp of great
The best evidence of this turnaround in thinking: Bus Tour II, taken on
Thursday, an initiative of the Chamber’s Economic Development Committee and
a logical extension of the Economic Development Summit sponsored by the
Chamber in October 2009.
The goal of the bus tour was really twofold: first, to give Duneland
officials the chance to acquaint themselves with their neighbors’ projects
and prospects; second—and perhaps more important—to tout Duneland to a
select group of invited Chicagoland brokers and developers.
The tour lasted around two hours and visited all the right places. Beginning
at the Sand Creek Country Club, it hit the Lake Erie Land Company’s holdings
along Dickinson Road and in Coffee Creek Center; the proposed Ind. 49
utility corridor and the new Porter hospital site; the South Calumet
District, Downtown Chesterton, and Indian Boundary Road, including the site
of a new 24-hour freestanding emergency department at the former Jewel/Osco;
U.S. Highway 20 in Burns Harbor, the Village of Burns Harbor, and Lakeland
Park; the proposed Brickyard in Porter, the Orchard Pedestrian Trail along
Waverly Road, and the Ind. 49 Gateway Corridor; Indiana Dunes State Park;
and Dune Park Station.
In each town narration was provided by a local rep: Police Chief Dave
Cincoski for Chesterton; Town Council Member Toni Biancardi for Burns
Harbor; Town Engineer Matt Keiser and Redevelopment Commission Member Bruce
Snyder in Porter.
Certainly for those who’ve driven countless miles in Duneland without really
paying attention the tour was salutary. There was a seamlessness about it
and a particularlity missing when one is simply errand-going. Chesterton
folks who’ve never seen the Village of Burns Harbor or Burns Harbor folks
who’ve read about the Brickyard but couldn’t have mapped it in their heads
undoubtedly got a good lesson in geography and the impetus to begin
assembling Duneland’s economic-development puzzle pieces.
But the real question is this: what did the out-of-towners take away from
Probably something like this:
•There’s property available, both infrastructured and non-infrastructured:
great empty gobs of it at Coffee Creek Center; 80 acres in a triangle in
Burns Harbor bounded by Ind. 149, I-94, and U.S. 20; and 51 acres on Tremont
Road in Porter with frontage on U.S. 20, just to name a few parcels.
•The Tri-Towns are making commitments, making investments, and spending
their own money: TIF funds in Chesterton to pay for the South Cal project,
TIF funds in Porter to acquire the property for the Brickyard.
•Others are also making investments in Duneland. Community Health Services
Inc. is set to break ground soon on its new hospital at the intersection of
Ind. 49 and U.S. Highway 6 in Liberty Township. The Sisters of St. Francis
Health Services Inc., the operator of St. Anthony Memorial Health Center in
Michigan City, is making an enormous commitment in Chesterton, with its
24-hour freestanding ER department on Indian Boundary Road. In Burns Harbor
Bob Rohrman purchased the shuttered Luddington Nissan dealership and Bob
Kerr is building a separate Toyota dealership. In Porter a new Comfort Inn
Suites has gone up on U.S. 20.
•The Tri-Towns are brimming with optimism and ideas. In Chesterton officials
have proposed the so-called Ind. 49 Utility Corridor, which would extend
utility service down both sides of Ind. 49 south of the Indiana Toll Road
and open the area—for landowners willing to be annexed—to new development.
Chesterton officials are also looking to capitalize on the health-care
facilities already on the ground—including Lakeshore Bone & Joint
Institute—and those in the works, to turn the town into a medical
destination. Burns Harbor officials, on the other hand, have laid the
groundwork for the development of a Downtown District. Porter officials, for
their part, have obtained funding from the Northwest Indiana Regional
Development Authority to begin work on the Ind. 49 Gateway Corridor.
•Intermodal. Duneland is criss-crossed by major road systems: I-94, the
Indiana Toll Road, U.S. 20 and 12. It’s sliced by major rail systems:
Norfolk Southern and CSX. And it’s home to the busiest port in the state,
the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor. In short, Duneland is a transportation
•Amenities, Duneland’s full of them. Indiana Dunes State Park, Indiana Dunes
National Lakeshore, the Coffee Creek Watershed Preserve, and the proximity
of Chicago easily, accessed by the South Shore.
•Finally, connectivity. Five years from now, it will likely be possible to
reach nearly every point in Duneland safely by walking or biking—along the
Prairie Duneland Trail, the Westchester-Liberty Trail, the Porter Brickyard
Trail, and the Orchard Pedestrian Way—and from anywhere in Duneland to make
one’s way beyond via the Calumet Trail and the Dunes Kankakee Trail.
It’s one thing to read about Duneland on the Chamber’s website or the Lake
Erie Land Company’s or Chesterton’s or Burns Harbor’s. It’s another thing
entirely actually to see the geography of the vision, mile by mile and town
by town, how the whole is potentially much bigger than any of the parts.
Whether any of the out-of-towners is induced to take a bite out of Duneland
remains to be seen.
But the fact that the Tri-Towners were induced to share the confines of a
bus for two hours on Thursday is pretty newsworthy itself.