|Merrillville ready for booming 90's|
date: 09/06/92 Source: Times Online
Article Title: Merrillville ready for booming 90's
By: Kris Falzone
MERRILLVILLE - David Lasser points to an aerial map speckled with red, blue and orange dots.
While census data shows Schererville grew most of all Lake County municipalities during the last decade, the map covering almost an entire wall in the Merrillville Chamber of Commerce's conference room indicates Merrillville may well be the growth center of the region in the 1990s.
The dots pinpoint dozens of planned residential, commercial and industrial projects in a 47-square-mile area where the children attend Merrillville schools - also the area covered by the Merrillville chamber.
"We're having an incredible surge right now," said Lasser, vice president of Commercial In-Sites Inc. and chairman of the chamber's planning and zoning committee.
There's enough housing on the books now - 3,044 units - to increase Merrillville's population by more than 7,000, based on the U.S. average of 2.5 people per household.
"There is clearly no other area in Northwest Indiana with this kind of growth," Lasser said.
Current projects include the Polo Club, a 987-unit rental complex on U.S. 30 that will be second only to the 1,300-unit Mansards in Griffith as the largest apartment community in Lake and Porter counties. It already has a 500-name waiting list.
Village of Sedona, the largest proposed residential project in the region, will cover 285 acres of the southwest side of town with 122 townhomes, 231 multi-family homes and 495 single-family homes at prices ranging from $80,000 to $150,000.
Chapel Hill Farms on Taft Street across from the Croatian Center will add 113 new single-family homes to the landscape over the next two years.
The list goes on.
"Residential growth is finally coming to catch up with the rest of what we've had," Lasser said.
Merrillville was created when people moved south from Gary and other northern parts of Lake County during the 1960s. The town was incorporated in 1971, and by the 1980 census had grown to 27,000 residents.
But it actually lost 420 residents, or 1.5 percent of its population, between 1980 and 1990. The commercial base, however, blossomed along Interstate 65 and U.S. 30.
Now, Lasser said, "there is pent-up demand for people in older Merrillville homes to upgrade. That frees up entry-level homes for the younger people."
Chapel Hill Farms, the first Indiana project in the 80-year history of venerable Chicago developer Burnside Construction Co., is one example of the response to demand for new Merrillville homes.
Burnside President George "Bud" Arquilla III said the subdivision's $126,000 to $164,000 price tags are $25,000 to $30,000 less than typical move-up homes in the south suburbs on the Illinois side of the state line.
"And Merrillville has equal or better schools, equal commuting time to Chicago, and it's more affordable," he said, adding that he sees future opportunity for his company in Northwest Indiana.
Arquilla said thanks to the commercial tax base, Merrillville's residential property tax rate of $1.65 per $100 of assessed valuation is the lowest per capita in Indiana. John Janik, executive director of the Merrillville Chamber of Commerce, said taxes might increase to pay for the high school expansion, but with growth, the town's assessed value increases, keeping the tax rate down.
"That allows you to buy a bigger house - or to buy a house, period," Janik said.
Commercial growth continues as well.
The crowded retail sector is gaining a Kohl's, which is building an 83,000-square-foot department store on an outlot of Southlake Mall. Best Buy is scheduled to open its 28,000-square-foot appliance and electronics store next to Sportmart this week.
A Dollar Inn and Courtyard by Marriott are under construction to join the rest of the Merrillville hotel scene; Lasser said the number of guest rooms in town has increased from 151 in 1968 to 1,310 currently, with 200 more planned.
Janik added that Merrillville is becoming a destination point, rather than a place to stop along the way to somewhere else.
"With the Star Theatre and other activity going on, people are coming to Merrillville," Janik said. "They are coming here to stay."
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