Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Chamber of Commerce boosts Duneland united approach to economic develpment

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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 Chesterton.

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 development.

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 things.

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 the tour?

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 hub.

•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.



Posted 5/24/2010




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