Early in its history, Cedar Lake was a summer mecca.
Hordes of visitors would come by train to the lakefront. Music venues would have big bands and top entertainers throughout the summer.
Eventually, the town evolved into a family-oriented community, one that continues to draw attention from Chicago and beyond due to its country charm and attractive waterfront.
Town leaders now hope some of Cedar Lake’s lustrous past can be incorporated into its future with help from a new economic development project they are spearheading along the lake and in an area of town known as Midway Gardens, on the northeast side of the lake.
“It’s really cool. It’s a game-changer,” Town Council President Randy Niemeyer said.
Town officials formulated an estimate of $150 million for the project by talking to engineers, real estate brokers and other professionals.
"(It's) just an estimate," Neimeyer said. He and town leaders are shooting for a 5-to-1 ratio of private-to-public investment.
On the drawing board since the town’s comprehensive plan was updated in 2007, the plan known as Town Center would bring new businesses, a band shell, walking paths, a multiuse trail and athletic fields to Cedar Lake.
Niemeyer calls it a public and private partnership that would get public money in the form of tax increment financing obtained from redevelopment.
“(TIF) would be one mechanism,” Niemeyer said. He does not expect the town will put out bonds at any point for improvements.
The town needs $1.5 million to put toward a feasibility study for a proposal to clean the lake and hopes the RDA can help. Cedar Lake also has been in touch with state Rep. Michael Aylesworth, R-Hebron, and state Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell.
Tourism helps, but development necessary
The Town Center project and another planned project, the Cedar Lake Ecorestoration Project, go hand in hand, the town's Niemeyer said. “We need to find a way as a town to fund our portion of the lake eco-restoration. That funding is going to be done (in part) by partnerships.”
The projected cost of the lake eco-restoration project is $22 million, half of which the town expects to pay and the other half to be paid by the federal government. That amount is separate from the estimated $150 million downtown project cost.
Niemeyer, who said he has spent the last few years researching public and private partnerships, is particularly heartened by what he found in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
Though tourism is important in Lake Geneva “it’s their redeveloped downtown (and) year-round activity that sustains them," he said.
Niemeyer and other leaders believe they can address the community’s needs by growing it in a targeted and sustained manner. In short, Cedar Lake will do best by having a plan in place, they say.
The timing is perfect, they believe, since the long-awaited lake eco-restoration project may finally become reality. A feasibility study should be approved by the Army Corps of Engineers next spring, Murr said. Plans and specs should be completed by next fall, and the first contracts could be awarded in 2019.
“Everything is subject to change,” said Murr, who along with other officials continues to be optimistic the project will be on schedule.
With the lake close to being cleaned up, officials hope to begin the transformation of its town center simultaneously.
“The lake project can feed off the downtown project,” Niemeyer said.
The plan currently in place calls for a boutique-style hotel in the Midway Gardens neighborhood. That hotel ideally would have a conference center that could accommodate up to 500. Surrounding that area would be small shops and restaurants.
Also targeted for redevelopment would be the Town Complex, also on the northeast side of the lake, which is home to Cedar Lake’s municipal buildings. The plan for this area includes a lakeside band shell, walking trails and athletic fields.
The idea is, once development starts, the baseline assessed value will go up, which will increase the amount of TIF funds available to the town.
Niemeyer said town officials have met with a developer who already has had success with entertainment and business park projects in Illinois. The town also expects to be working with the Indiana Economic Development Corp., the state's commerce agency.
During its Nov. 21 meeting, the council heard a presentation and proposal from Veridus Group, a civil engineering firm out of Indianapolis, Niemeyer said.
Veridus has acted as project manager and consultant for large-scale projects before, he said.
“We need to put this all in motion,” he said. “The lake project can feed off the downtown project. It’s an exciting time to be in Cedar Lake.”