Merrillville's Panhandle a hot property
Publication date: 09/10/1998 – Source: www.TheTimesOnline.com
Article Title: 
Merrillville's Panhandle a hot property.
By: Cliston Brown

MERRILLVILLE - Tonight could mark the starting point for serious commercial development in the town's Panhandle area. The town council's Utility Liaison Committee will meet at 5:30 to discuss the extension of sewer lines by the Merrillville Conservancy District into the large, mostly rural, eastern part of town. The Panhandle is located east of Mississippi Street between 85th and 101st avenues. 

Town officials see the Panhandle, which stretches to the Porter County line, as a potential financial jackpot for Merrillville.  Councilman Archie Owen, R-6th, who represents the ward that includes the Panhandle, says extension of a sewer main into that area could open up lots of possibilities in the area between Harms Road and Beaver Dam Ditch, west of Clay Street. He expects the rest of the rural Panhandle will remain residential. 

"It would open up probably 1,400 to 1,500 acres," said Owen, the Utility Liaison Committee chairman. "It'd open up the whole area zoned for light industrial."  The Panhandle area has had large tracts of land zoned light industrial for years, but without infrastructure, development has been scant.

That is highly likely to change when sewers come in, according to David Lasser, president of Commercial In-Sites.  Lasser's company, based in Hobart, identifies prime sites for commercial development. He says there is plenty of potential for the Panhandle's development.  "There are a couple substantial-sized companies poised to develop in that area that really need sewers," Lasser said.

Lasser said a large Illinois manufacturer is considering locating in the Panhandle, and if the sewer situation looks promising, that firm should be ready to announce its intentions by the end of September.  "A number of the prospects that are looking at it, (the sewer plans are) what they're waiting to hear," Lasser said.  Christine Savarese, district coordinator for the Merrillville Conservancy District, said she hoped the sewer project would be well under way in two years.

Designs are already in the works, and work can get going if the town agrees to allow the conservancy district to annex the Panhandle. That area is not now part of the conservancy district.  Once that is done, the conservancy district is looking at issuing $16 million in bonds to pay for the sewer main extension project, Savarese said. Commercial development is expected to raise enough revenue over time to pay off the bonds.

"This is something the town had hoped for for a long time," Savarese said.  Savarese said the sewer route would start near the intersection of Interstate 65 and 61st Avenue, then run east into Hobart on 61st Avenue to Colorado Street. From there, it would go south back into Merrillville's Panhandle.  Town Council President Andrew Sylwestrowicz, D-1st, has estimated that extending sewer service to the Panhandle could ultimately double the town's $249 million assessed valuation.  Owen agrees there is plenty of potential if the sewer idea goes through.  "I think you'll see tremendous growth in the one portion, the area we zoned light industrial," Owen said.  

Related Article:  09/15/1998  Chicago firm interested in Merrillville.

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