MERRILLVILLE — The town of Merrillville has positioned itself well as the crossroads of the Region with its pro economic development and job creation stance, Town Councilman Shawn Pettit said.

To better deal with economic issues, he said he wouldn't rule out the town of 35,322 residents taking on city status in the future. Residents have twice rejected a referendum - in 1999 and 2002 - to switch Merrillville from town to city status.

"I've always been in favor of it...It's easier for a city to deal with economic issues. Look what's going on in Crown Point," Pettit said, noting its city status and mayoral rule.

Pettit addressed the health of the town at a Tuesday luncheon hosted by the Crossroads Regional Chamber of Commerce at Gamba Ristorante.

U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Gary, provided highlights of several projects he had championed in Northwest Indiana during the past year during his address.

He received a round of applause when he mentioned the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore's recent new designation as a national park.

"The primary purpose is to draw interest to our natural resources," Visclosky said.

The Indiana Dunes National Park will be included in the next national park listing as the 61st park. Visclosky is confident that will bring visitors to the Region.

Visclosky also spoke about the recent announcement by the Federal Transit Administration that moves forward the South Shore Line's West Lake Corridor project.

The FTA's medium-high rating was revealed in the U.S. Department of Transportation's annual report on the Capital Investment Grant program. The grant for West Lake would cover nearly half the construction cost of $764 million, and a similar proportion of early financing costs of $127 million.

"We just received that good news," Visclosky said.

There was also lots of good economic news in Merrillville during the past year, Pettit said.

Pettit highlighted a number of commercial projects, including the purchase of the former Merrillville Off-Track Betting site at 7610 Broadway by Manvee Real Estate Indiana.

The building, with an estimated initial investment of $1.5 million, was converted into a wholesale bakery that makes and distributes baked goods to numerous Dunkin' Donuts locations.

Other big projects included the opening last April of Home 2 Suites by Hilton near Interstate 65 and U.S. 30 and the breaking of ground last year for WoodSprings Suites, a 4-story, extended stay hotel at 1500 E. 83rd Ave.

One of the more visible projects was the $1.2 million demolition of the former Radisson/Star Plaza and Twin Towers at I-65 and U.S. 30.

The town is still waiting to talk to White Lodging officials and the future of the site remains unknown, Pettit said.

"We're optimistic about what they will come up with," Pettit said.

White Lodging had last year pitched the $356 million The Farm at Crossroad Commons, a walkable town square-like development with a meeting and event center, four hotels, an office building, an underground parking garage, a townhouse, condos, two restaurants, a craft brewery and distillery, an art gallery, a visitors center, a greenhouse, a horse riding arena and 24,000-square feet of outdoor space.

Pettit also praised the work of town officials, including Merrillville Police Chief Joseph Petruch, who heads up a department of 60 fellow officers.

Crime has declined in all areas in Merrillville, he said.

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