HAMMOND — The best thing he's ever done as a public servant is helping 5,000 students go to college, Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said in his 16th State of the City address Wednesday.

The highlight of his municipal administration, he told the gathering at the Dynasty Banquets, was creation of the College Bound Scholarship Program. The program has delivered $10,500 a year in college tuition for the eligible children of city homeowners since 2006.

"It's helped 5,000 students go to college. It's the best thing I'll ever do as a public servant," he said.

He spoke of construction of the $20 million Sportsplex, which repurposed the old Carson Pirie Scott shopping mall at 165th and Indianapolis Boulevard.

He reminisced about the demolition of the crime-riddled River Park Apartments at Kennedy Avenue and the Borman Expressway more than a decade ago.

He said it cost more than $12 million for the city to buy the apartment complex, but today it is Ox Bow Landing, a $40 million collection of hotels and the Byway Brewery. He said a third hotel is slated to rise there in the future.

He spoke of the concerns he had about what would replace the coal-fired State Line Generating Plant on the Lake Michigan shoreline and his relief over its replacement with construction of an internet data center that is now worth $100 million.

He said city planners are urging him to reintroduce curbside parking in downtown Hammond and the Hessville business district.

He praised the growth of retail business in north Hammond since Walmart opened its store on the Indiana-Illinios state line.

He said he hopes a South Shore commuter train opens a downtown Hammond station once its Westlake tracks open in several years.

He said the city has invested $300 million over the years in new sidewalks and other infrastructure. The money comes from millions it receives from the Horseshoe Casino and its sale of Lake Michigan water to Illinois suburbs.

He said the city should invest more money in additional drinking water processing facilities.

He also spoke of his political aspirations, joking to the audience it might be his last talk, "If I'm lucky enough, next year, to be your congressman instead of mayor.”

He is one of nine Democrats running in the May 5 primary for the 1st Congressional District seat incumbent U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky, D-Gary, is giving up after 34 years in office.

"I fought hard for Hammond as mayor. I fight just as hard for every other community in Northwest Indiana. I will have to be actively involved in, Michigan City, Westville, Portage and Valparaiso, all of Porter and Lake counties in general," McDermott said. "That would be my job and I would take it very seriously."
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