By PAULENE POPARAD
GK Development consultant Valerie Kretchmer said bringing a 351,419 square
foot retail mall to Chesterton should help, not hurt, existing businesses,
especially in its historic downtown.
But mall opponents asked if her comparison was apples to apples, or apples
Then again, mall supporters said the jobs that the mall will bring are too
good to pass up in challenging economic times.
Kretchmer compared the likely impact to Chesterton retailers by using
big-box commercial developments built in Morris and Antioch, both Illinois,
and in Valparaiso, areas she called comparable communities. She said
merchants in Valparaiso indicated big-box retailers there generated traffic
that brought more shoppers into their downtown.
The key, she said, is to monitor what mall stores are selling and not to
duplicate that merchandise. In the two Illinois examples, Wal-Mart
Supercenters were in the community. Despite that, their downtowns remained
viable with little or no vacancies although grocery sales declined, she
Kretchmer said Chesterton will see population growth and by having
customer-friendly hours and service as well as unique merchandise,
Chesterton’s 32 downtown stores can survive and thrive, especially if the
popular outdoor European Market continues to draw crowds here.
During public comment, local downtown business owner Frank Sessa said, “I
really don’t see this project as a detriment to the downtown. Let’s not pick
on the shopping center for shops failing.” He estimated since 1977 about 50
small businesses have gone out of business.
Joan Carpenter said GK should work with the Chesterton/Duneland Chamber of
Commerce and possibly a shuttle service between the mall and downtown could
Mall proponent Jim Kowalski said in his 30 years living here Chesterton’s
downtown hasn’t changed. “It’s a special area. It’s going to be there and
it’ll stay there.” But it isn’t a sleepy little town any more, he added. The
town needs new tax base to support its residential development, added
Kowalski, and part-time jobs are needed, especially for teenagers who now
have to drive out of town to find them.
Eric Koeger, chairman of the Chesterton Hometown Improvement Program, said
both the town’s quality of life and new business development can co-exist.
He said it’s not up to us to decide if we need a Target or Kohl’s, rather
it’s the town’s role to do it responsibly by requiring high standards. “If
they’ve met them and are willing to be partners in our community, I urge you
to approve their plan.”
Several residents said they objected to GK’s lack of imagination in choosing
Target and Kohl’s for their main anchors feeling other stores would be more
desirable. Said Laura DeSousa, “They’re giving us a very pretty development,
pretty boxes with the same stuff inside.” As did a few others, “I realize
this is pretty much a done deal. I’ve resigned myself to that,” she said.
George Maney voiced support; he said the elderly need a place to shop and
having a mall close by will enable the town to keep their money here.
Downtown business owner Marjory Crawford said of Illinois-based GK, “It’s
all for their advantage, not ours.” Valparaiso’s downtown is home to the
county seat, she also noted, which generates traffic of its own. With GK on
the State Road 49 bypass, “What happens to downtown Chesterton when everyone
Kelly Rivera is co-owner of Top Hat Tuxedo. She said ongoing issues like the
lack of downtown parking should be addressed before a new mall. “I’m all for
making money, but make it somewhere else,” she told GK representatives.
Several residents speaking would live near the mall either east of it on
County Road 1100N or Dickinson Road, in Tamarack subdivision to the west, or
along County Road 100 E that intersects Rail Road.
Some of those speaking said the vacant stores in Valparaiso’s northside
County Seat Mall, which is being sold and renovated, is the impact of
big-box development on that city’s east side. Al Riolo said Chesterton’s
west side is “basically dead” after WiseWay relocated. “Big corporations
suck the lifeblood out of small retailers,” he stated.
Nada Karas of Lucrezia restaurant in Chesterton said Target and Kohl’s don’t
fit our community. “I don’t want Merrillville here. Leave it for
Agreed James Oates, “I don’t want to live along (U.S.) 6 in Portage.
Chesterton is a home community. We came here to escape those things. We can
drive. Our town is a community of people living here. It’s not a community
of strip malls.”
George Manning, owner of two downtown antique shops, said the GK proposal
isn’t right for Chesterton. “This meeting is an outcry. There is an
ill-balanced plan here. We need to think downtown, old town.” He proposed a
While some speakers welcomed the mall’s opportunities for employment, mall
opponents said the majority of jobs will be low-paying and part-time, not
the kind that will enable families to live here and afford a home. The area
needs clean, high-tech jobs that pay more, speakers said.
Some of the 50 acres the GK PUD would rezone, 40 of it for retail, is now
zoned industrial. Commission member Jeff Trout asked landowner John Ameling
if he ever had tried to market his industrial acreage. Ameling said no. “I
didn’t think it’s in the best interest of the town and I still don’t.”
Controlled development was supported as desirable, but this isn’t it, said
mall opponents. Others felt the quality of life and peace of mind they enjoy
would be shattered by thousands of mall shoppers, and that crime might
follow, overburdening town services and police.
Tom O’Keefe said if the town had problems with a three-day Wizard of Oz
Festival, how can it hope to cope with the impact of a major retail mall
here every day? He said planned development of the Gary/Chicago Airport can
have positive benefits for Chesterton if it is patient, rather than “putting
a noose around our neck” now.
The comments of Maureen Foos, who lives adjacent to GK land, drew applause.
“My main plea is, turn this down.” She said surveyors working for GK
arrogantly placed survey stakes on her land. “They figure they have us in
their pocket.” She also said blue heron and salmon who frequent the area and
creek will suffer.
With about 30 vehicles per minute coming to the area, Foos said, the Pioneer
Trail intersection, even with improvements funded by GK, won’t work and she
suggested a roundabout. She called for a separate traffic indicator for
pedestrians and cyclists to cross State Road 49, and for planted berms to
Michael Foos, who spoke as a proponent, said environmental concerns existing
now could be improved by mall construction, and he asked that Dickinson Road
to the east not be extended south of County Road 1100N.
Yet Dan Hager said Chesterton is being over-developed and the mall is a
symptom. “We don’t need it. Please take your mall someplace else.”