Michigan City on the Fast Lane for Growth | Local News
MICHIGAN CITY — It’s been years since planning for the Double Track NWI project began. Its impact will last for many years to come.
The project, currently under construction, will speed up travel between Michigan City and Chicago, putting it in roughly the same travel time as Naperville.
“The Double Track project has been a catalyst for mixed-use, multi-family developers,” said Clarence Hulse, executive director of Economic Development Corp. Michigan City.
Well-heeled developers from New Jersey, Detroit, Indianapolis and even Europe are flocking to Michigan City, he said.
“We’re punching above our weight” in terms of economic development, Hulse said. The Double Track project certainly helps.
The city attracts residential and industrial developments. The residential development is aimed at a variety of income levels, helping to provide new housing for the workforce as well as upscale homes.
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“We need to bring more people back to the city,” Hulse said. Property valuations are up 40%, showing the city is on the rise, he said.
Mayor Duane Parry acknowledged that the Double Track construction project will not be painless. The original plan called for the Michigan City segment of the project to be completed over two years. Instead, it’s going to be done in just one year to avoid the added cost of mobilizing the equipment again for a second phase.
The city agreed to “rip the band-aid” to get the project finished sooner, Parry said.
Although 11th Street may be difficult to cross due to the second set of lanes added along the route, Ohio, Wabash, Washington and Franklin streets will remain open with rare exceptions when construction on these streets is underway. “We’re trying to make sure we have at least two of those north-south accesses open,” Parry said.
First responders will not fall short of required response times, he promised.
Part of the Double Track project includes the construction of a new downtown train station in the block between Franklin and Pine streets. The terracotta facade of the old station has been retained to be integrated into the new station.
But it’s not just a station that goes up. Plans call for Indianapolis-based Flaherty & Collins Properties to build an $80 million, 12-story mixed-use development on the site. In addition to the train station, the project includes 208 luxury residential apartments, over 10,000 square feet of commercial space and a 558-space parking lot.
“Downtown Michigan City is in the midst of a renaissance,” Parry said.
Planning director Skyler York said the city has seen projects run out of steam in the past. That was then. “Developer sophistication is much higher than eight years ago 10 years ago,” he said. Redevelopment agreements are being drawn up to arrive at the final project and “make sure we don’t have any false starts”.
Michigan City is known for its summer homes. It changes. “Right now we’re seeing a transition to permanent residents here,” York said. New construction and building permits are in full swing, and inspection staff are “super busy.”
“We’ve been slow in two years, three years, even through COVID,” he said.
“Michigan City is going to be an all-season city,” Parry said.
It is essential to provide the quality of life that residents seek. Indiana’s low tax rates might help spark interest in the area, but it’s the quality-of-life amenities that seal the deal.
Michigan City excels in this regard, starting with its hugely popular Washington Park. The photogenic lighthouse, Old Lighthouse Museum, zoo, and lake-view restaurants are already drawing visitors to Chicago.
This year, the city has agreed to expand the big cat exhibit for lions and tigers at the zoo. “The zoo has improved tremendously over the past 10 or 12 years,” said parks and recreation director Ed Shinn. He gave the credit to zoo director Jamie Huss.
A place in Washington Park to walk the dogs is coming soon too. About two-thirds of public comments on the issue are in favor of allowing dogs. When dogs are walked, owners also get exercise.
The Double Track project could increase the city’s population by more than 4%, so the city must provide the appropriate amenities, Shinn said. “I think hobbies will be the key to attracting them.”
The city has 16 parks for a variety of recreational uses. A new five-year master plan calls for all sorts of improvements, including inclusive playgrounds in neighborhood parks for children with special needs.
“Walk the Singing Sands Trail,” Parry said. “It’s a wonderful experience.” The trail is part of the Marquette Greenway Trail which will stretch from Chicago to New Buffalo, Michigan.
Parry said the city was in talks with companies that would bring employees to the city and provide a living wage. “We have a population of excellent specialist companies,” he said, and more are on the way.
The city’s finances are supported by revenue from the casino and the Blue Chip Hotel, but hampered by property tax caps. Parry wants a portion of the state’s $5 billion surplus to be shared with municipalities. “You also have to take care of your towns and villages,” he said.
Michigan City has 23 square miles, 171 miles of streets, and 140 miles of sidewalks. “It’s a huge responsibility,” he said.
As for the future, Parry said he would like to see the Indiana Department of Corrections move the Indiana State Prison to another location, possibly Westville. The prison dates back to the Civil War.
Moving it would open up possibilities for redevelopment.
“We keep our fingers on the pulse of what’s going on,” he said.
The Naval Armory at the end of the historic drawbridge leading to Washington Park is another thing Parry has his eyes on. “I would like to take possession of this naval armory if possible,” he said.