As dignitaries drove a ceremonial gold-painted spike into a section of railroad track Monday in Michigan City, it represented construction work now underway on the South Shore Double Track project. It also serves as a symbol of potential economic prosperity for the region. Officials say the $649 million effort could attract thousands of new residents as commuter times to and from Chicago are improved.
“The Double Track is going to provide a boon for the area that all of Northwest Indiana is going to experience,” said Michigan City Mayor Duane Parry. “Michigan City has been a dormant community way too long. Housing, jobs, economy, I see the future of Michigan City being enormously bright.”
The project will add 17 miles of new track, parallel to the existing line, from Michigan City to Gary. The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, which operates the South Shore Line, expects to reduce travel time between Michigan City and Millennium Park in Chicago by 33 minutes.
“Because we’re driving the travel time down, people can look over here and say, ‘Oh, that’s where I want to be,’ said NICTD President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Noland. “It’s not distance. It’s time. And when we drive the time down, that’s the separating factor. We’re really going to be the place of choice.”
Listen to more of Mike Noland’s comments by clicking below.
Economic development officials expect the South Shore Double Track project in conjunction with the $945 million West Lake Corridor project could attract 11,000 new residents. The West Lake project will add an eight-mile extension through high-growth areas of Hammond, Munster and Dyer.
More residents require more housing. In Michigan City, two mixed-use development projects have been announced in recent months, including the $80 million 11th Street Central project. Indianapolis-based Flaherty & Collins Properties is the developer.
“This project is a catalytic development,” said Brian Prince, vice president of development for Flaherty & Collins. “It’s an opportunity for the state to grow the population in the region, attracting those high wage jobs from the Chicago market, with a more affordable opportunity for living in Northwest Indiana.”
As part of a public-private partnership, Flaherty & Collins will build a 12-story mixed-use development with 220 units. There will also be a six-story parking garage, offering spaces for commuters using the rail line. The project also includes a rail station and about 15,000-square-feet of ground floor retail and restaurant space.
Prince says the company has been looking for potential development projects in Michigan City for more than four years. When the Double Track project came to fruition, and the city sought Request for Proposals (RFP) from developers, it jumped at the opportunity.
But Prince says had the state commitment not been made on the Double Track project, Flaherty & Collins would not have pursued a project on this spot.
“It just would not have been economically feasible. We’ve got partnerships with the city, the state, the RDA (regional development authority), as well as you know NICTD,” said Prince. “There are a number of parties that are all invested in this project together to make it economically viable. But for their participation, there’s no way this thing would be able to pencil out economically.”
Flaherty & Collins will develop the entire city block bounded by 10th and 11th Streets on the north and south sides, and Franklin and Pine Streets on the west and east. Prince says construction will begin in 2023. The parking structure is scheduled to open in 2024, coinciding with opening of the expanded rail service. The apartment building is slated to open in 2025.
“This train station is going to be a huge economic generator. And it was going to allow for developers to get some return on investment, as well as the state to get return on their investment with bodies (new residents), disposable income, more transit opportunities to move people in and out of Indiana, for work opportunities,” Prince said.
Meanwhile, Mayor Parry says he can envision Michigan City’s population growing between five and 10,000 residents over the next five to ten years as northwest Indiana continues to push for economic growth.
“I saw Michigan City as a teenager, in its greatest days, when everyone worked. That all that changed when industry moved south, and then moved out of the country. But industry is slowly but surely coming back,” said Parry. And we are at the hub of the wheel, Northwest Indiana. We’re gonna capitalize on that.”
Learn more specific details about the Double Track project by clicking here on another Inside INdiana Business story.