The Mercantile Bank Building casts a shadow on Hohman Avenue in Hammond. Staff photo by Kale Wilk
The Mercantile Bank Building casts a shadow on Hohman Avenue in Hammond. Staff photo by Kale Wilk
HAMMOND — A safer, more vibrant and pedestrian-friendly Hohman Avenue — coupled with the planned Gateway train station — will help shape the future of the city’s downtown.

That’s according to a draft master plan unveiled Tuesday night by Speck and Associates, a highly sought after consulting firm hired last year to generate ideas for the downtown district.

At least 130 people attended the standing-room-only presentation at Towle Theater, where Jeff Speck, author of "Walkable City: How Downtown Saves America, One Step at a Time," revealed proposals for street reconfigurations, housing developments and retrofitted use of older buildings.

“Most of the stores are empty … Your historic core is not what it could be, but the bones are really good and it’s the kind of place, at least physically, that people are moving back to now, and that gives us some great optimism about what’s possible here,” Speck said

The goal of Tuesday’s presentation was to start a conversation with the community, get feedback and return in October with a final master plan, Speck told The Times.

Since last year, Speck and David Dixon, vice president and director of Stantec Urban Places, have teamed up to help craft a master plan for the downtown on behalf of the planning and development department.

Slowing traffic down

Drivers tend to zip through the downtown on Hohman Avenue with its wide and ample lanes, Speck said.

A standard street lane is 10 feet — but the downtown streets of Hammond range anywhere from 10 feet to 20 or more feet, with State Street being the biggest offender, creating an unsafe environment because cars zoom through the corridor.

Speck's team presented six possible redesigns of Hohman, all with the similar goal of slowing traffic and creating a safe, pedestrian-friendly space for residents with tree-lined streets, on-street parking and bike lanes.

Under the proposed changes, Hohman Avenue would undergo a multimillion-dollar redesign, while other streets would be re-striped, making some one-way streets into two lanes with added parking. Landscaping would also reinvigorate the streets of downtown, they said.

“Bringing Hohman Avenue back will require more than just paint,” Speck said.

Anne Anderson, the city's economic development director, said she loved what she heard from Speck’s proposal, especially the idea of additional angled or parallel parking along Hohman. That would create an automatic barrier between cars and the sidewalk and make pedestrians feel more safe, she said.

“I love how he’s really concentrating on rebuilding Hohman to slow down the traffic and making it a more welcoming space,” she said.

'Gateway' station is key

Speck said he believes his team was able to convince the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District to relocate the proposed location for the Gateway train station.

The station will be where the West Lake Corridor meets the South Shore line in Hammond.

The first proposed location south of Douglas Street is not ideal for bringing in pedestrian traffic, he said, because it’s a solid, five- to 10-minute walk to the heart of Hohman.

The move north of Douglas will be an added cost to the city, but the return on investment is worth every penny, he said.

Sketches presented Tuesday showed a 20-year buildout of new buildings, multi-family apartment clusters in the heart of downtown and clusters of row houses and apartment buildings near the proposed station.

Next steps

Anderson said Speck will be meeting this week with stakeholders and a steering committee consisting of business owners, investors, city leaders and community members. Tuesday’s meeting was to gauge reaction from the audience.

A final plan will be released in October.

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