ST. JOHN — The Town Council recently approved an economic development agreement for the commercial retail development of more than 171,000 square feet at U.S. 41 and 96th Place.
Shops 96 will be developed on 23 acres on the east side of U.S. 41 to Joliet Street and the railroad tracks. It lies between St. John Pool Center to the north and Al's Auto Body Experts II to the south.
The town's agreement is with SJ-96 LLC, which has already invested more than $2 million in the project that includes land acquisition, engineering, legal and architectural pre-development costs.
Town Manager Steve Kil said the significance of the agreement is that it clearly lays out the responsibilities of both parties to the agreement, meaning the town and the developer.
"There are some very clear and concise responsibilities for each of us," he said. "There are certain aspects of public improvements that the town is going to undertake. And then, in conjunction with those public improvements, there is a significant amount of private improvement that has to take place by the developer.
"What it does is it outlines clearly the benefit to the town."
One of the town's responsibilities is undertaking a new traffic signal at West 96th Place and U.S. 41, which has already been approved by the Indiana Department of Transportation. Plans call for West 96th Place to eventually extend to Joliet Street. An access road is also planned behind the development's outlots that will continue south and tie into the existing road that goes beyond McDonald's.
Several existing buildings on the property will be demolished — a house to the far south side, the abandoned car wash, the existing lumber yard building and a house on the north side of the lumber building. There are a few businesses currently on the site that SJ-96 manager Bruce Boyer is currently working with to relocate in the new development.
Kil said it is his understanding that one of them, St. John Malt Brothers Brewing, fully intends to relocate within the shopping development.
Town officials hope the project will spur development across the street at the long-vacant Kmart building.
"It makes logical sense," Councilman Mark Barenie said. "But that can be a way off as well."
Barenie also said that while nobody's homes would be taken by the project, some land could be required, and the cost of that is undetermined until the engineering survey work is done.
Councilman Christian Jorgensen said the development is exactly what the town needs.
"The area is blighted as it is now," he said. "This vastly improves it. We have a population of nearly 20,000 people who deserve to have a nicer space and more opportunities."
Council President Michael Forbes said the town is on the right path, "no doubt about that."
"This is a long time coming," he said. "No matter how you slice it, this is an improvement to our town."
The next step for the developer is to petition the Plan Commission for a zone change for a shopping center. A decision on that would ultimately land in front of the Town Council.
The project is scheduled to commence no later than Dec. 31, 2018.