Chesterton Tribune

Coffee Creek Center founder Jerry Mobley retiring from LEL

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By KEVIN NEVERS

Jerry Mobley is resigning the presidency of the Lake Erie Land Company, effective March 31.

On Wednesday Mobley tendered his resignation to LEL’s parent company, NiSource Inc., and though he and his firm, Desert Springs Company, will remain available to LEL on a consultancy basis, Mobley told the Chesterton Tribune this week that he is retiring from the development business.

NiSource spokesperson Chris Falzone said that the company has not yet decided whether to tap Mobley’s successor from within LEL or NiSource or without.

Mobley will join in retirement the two other persons most associated with the creation of Coffee Creek Center: former NiSource Chief Executive Officer Gary Neale and Chief Financial Officer Steve Adik.

It was in a construction trailer at the Sand Creek Country Club in 1993, Mobley recalled in an interview with the Tribune in 1999, that he, Neale, and Adik first conceived of a mixed-use residential and commercial development built along New Urbanist and environmentally friendly lines. “I don’t remember the exact date,” Mobley said in that interview. “I wish I did. That should be memorialized somehow. (We) drew on our chalkboard in there and started coming up with the ideas on what . . . this area needed to really be something extraordinary.”

Thirteen years later Coffee Creek Center is home to an enclave of up-scale apartments, a scattering of single-family homes, a hotel, two health-care facilities, and an office and retail center. It may not seem like much after so long on the drawing board and then on the market, but in Mobley’s opinion Dunelanders from the beginning have had unrealistic expectations about the pace of development there. “It’s always been a 20-year project,” he said. “This thing is going to be built out and it’s going to be built out within that 20-year time frame. I won’t say I don’t wish it’s gone a little faster.”

Mobley attributed some of the delay to two lawsuits.

The first, brought by Charlotte Robertson and the Hoosier Environmental Council in 1997, challenged Chesterton Board of Zoning Appeals variances and prompted a coutersuit by LEL and the BZA.

The other, by the Northwest Indiana Regional Council of Carpenters Pension Fund Trust in 2004, was in the wake of a kickback scheme which resulted in federal prison terms for a union official, a union attorney, and the two real estate agents who brokered the sale of 55 acres at Coffee Creek Center to the Pension Fund Trust. The latter lawsuit remains unresolved.

“The lawsuits, the frivolous lawsuits, were something that affected me personally and tremendously delayed the project,” he said.

Nowadays, though, Dunelanders who hike, bike, or run the Coffee Creek Watershed Preserve are unlikely to spend much time thinking about the past, and for Mobley the restoration of the creek and its banks, the use of a level spreader system for stormwater management, the construction of trails, bridges, and other amenities, and the donation of the preserve to the Coffee Creek Watershed Conservancy are what he would like most to be remembered for. “It’s a great source of pride,” he said, “some of the innovative things we’ve done both at Sand Creek and Coffee Creek, both environmentally and operationally. It really has made an impact on the way things are built in the U.S. and really all over the world.”

Mobley has served as president of LEL for 13 years, after coming to Chesterton in 1991 as an expert in golf-course design, construction, and renovation retained by NIPSCO Industries when it purchased the Sand Creek Golf Course.

 

Posted 3/10/2006

 

 

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