Crown Point - Responsible growth • Northwest Indiana Business Magazine

Crown Point – Responsible growth

Crown Point maintains small-town charm with conscientious development, infrastructure investments

Crown Point
The city of Crown Point could reach 42,000 residents by 2040, says the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission. (Photo by provided by the city of Crown Point)

Crown Point is a growing community that works hard to maintain its hometown atmosphere.

Since 2010, the city’s population has grown by more than 7,000 people. The latest U.S. Census Bureau statistics estimate that 34,621 residents live here now.

“I see that continuing to grow,” Mayor Pete Land said.

The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission predicts it could reach 42,000 by 2040.

Developers are taking notice. The city that once didn’t have a motel now has a Hampton Inn. Two hospitals are being built. Stores and other businesses are quickly popping up. Along the way, public investments in infrastructure, including recreational facilities, have paved the way.

The 109th Avenue interchange on Interstate 65 opened in 2010, providing direct access to the center of Crown Point. Development quickly followed.

Keeping up with growth

The mayor, who was the police chief for 17 years, is focused on infrastructure, development and amenities. In 2018, a comprehensive plan was drafted to guide future improvements and growth for the next 20 years.

Crown Point Mayor Peter Land
Peter Land

Chief of Staff Anthony Schlueter said the investments are paying off.

“It’s obvious that the assessed valuation has been increasing year after year,” he said.

That includes a bump of 8.1 percent in just one year, Land added.

One priority includes working toward a new wastewater treatment facility to meet anticipated needs not just in the city but in surrounding areas as well. That would allow people using septic systems to have sanitary sewer service, which is environmentally the preferred option.

It’s an expensive project, approaching $100 million, but grant money will pay much of the cost, and it will happen in stages over many years, he said.

Good, responsible development will never outpace the city’s resources, Land said. Each year, new firefighters and police officers are hired to meet demands of the growing city. A Federal Emergency Management Agency grant allowed the city to hire seven firefighters all at the same time. Other departments see appropriate increases in staffing and equipment as well, he said.

“I’m super protective of Crown Point,” Land said. “It’s larger and expanding, but it still has that hometown feel and hometown spirit.”

The city employs more than 190 people and has an annual budget of $35 million, according to its website.

Developers also are required to help provide amenities, including space for parks.

“I’ve lived here my whole life,” Land said. “We want good amenities.”

Thinking big

Some of those amenities needed some work, such as the Hub Pool at Sauerman Woods. Attendance dropped dramatically over the years. Now the pool has been removed as part of a massive drainage and recreation project at the park.

Adam Graper
Adam Graper

When it’s complete, residents and visitors will be able to walk around a new pond. “It’s going to be a big-size lake,” Land said.

Patrons can rent a paddle boat or go fishing. Friends of the Veterans Memorial Parkway is planning to offer the opportunity to honor veterans as part of the trail there.

“It’s a destination park, really. We’re looking forward to it,” said Adam Graper, director of Parks, Athletics, Communications and Entertainment, or PACE, for the city.

The Kankakee River Basin and Yellow River Basin Development Commission is kicking in $3 million toward the project, which will provide stormwater relief to a large area on the city’s east side.

The project also includes upgrades to its current facilities, including fixes to the skate park. A roundabout at U.S. 231 and South Street also is planned.

Youth sports facilities
The Sportsplex just off Interstate 65 has proven so popular that the city is spending $1 million to replace the existing infields on six softball fields with turf, along with the necessary drainage and infrastructure for the project. (Photo provided by the city of Crown Point)

Graper said the park’s estimated completion is in 2025.

Another venue that needed some upgrades is the Sportsplex just off Interstate 65. It has proven so popular that the city is spending $1 million to replace the existing infields on six softball fields with turf, along with the necessary drainage and infrastructure for the project. The work is expected to be completed in time for this year’s softball and baseball seasons.

“The city of Crown Point continues to make improvements to our 95-acre destination Sportsplex, which draws in tens of thousands of athletes and visitors annually,” Land said. “The new field upgrades will keep our facility at the forefront of regional complexes and continue to make Crown Point a destination for youth and adult sports.”

Upon completion, nine of the 12 fields at the Sportsplex will have turf infields.

“That Sportsplex is stuffed with national tournaments,” he said, bringing “hundreds and hundreds of families.”

Former Mayor David Uran, now president and CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, knows that well.

Crown Point Car Cruise
The Crown Point cruise nights season will begin June 1 from 4:15 to 8 p.m. every Thursday through Sept. 28 at Bulldog Park, 183 S. West St. (Photo provided by the city of Crown Point)

“People always invest in their kids,” he said.

The National Softball Association has been involved in Northwest Indiana since 2007, using fields in Lake, Porter and La Porte counties for tens of thousands of players. Uran, now negotiating with the NSA as a tourism executive, was mayor when the Sportsplex was developed. He said it has fulfilled his vision.

Bulldog Park, just a block from downtown, was another big investment. The $10 million project in 2018 became an immediate hit.

“The footprint of that facility is the old bus barn that was overgrown and rusted out,” Graper said.

The city bought the property from the Crown Point Community School Corp. in 2017. “We’re still kind of learning what this facility can do and what it can do for the community,” he said.

Bulldog Park offers not only sports facilities like an NHL-sized skating rink in winter but also meeting rooms and a site for festivals.

Festivals all year round

Festivals are one highlight in Graper’s PACE portfolio.

“We looked at it as trying to bring that quality-of-life tradition back into one department,” Graper said.

Diane Bosse
Diane Bosse

That happened during the Uran administration, but he stepped down in 2022 to lead the SSVA after his election to a fourth term in 2019.

But the question: “What do you get as a benefit of being a Crown Point resident or a visitor?” is answered in large part by Graper’s department.

“The big beer drinking or the loud rock band might not be for everyone,” so the city tries to offer a variety of festivals and other amenities. Overwhelmingly, the city gets “fantastic feedback,” he said.

Planning the festivals is a year-round effort, Entertainment Superintendent Diane Bosse said.

Jennie Burgess
Jennie Burgess

“We used to have a down period,” Graper said. “It’s become something that’s nonstop. You’re planning for softball while you’re ice skating.”

Partnerships are key for the department.

“We don’t ever say we can’t do it,” Parks Superintendent Jennie Burgess said. “Any group, any opportunity, we’re just open.”

That is an attitude that helps Crown Point maintain that hometown feeling that residents value so much.

“You’re not a customer of ours; you’re a partner of ours,” Graper said.

Lots of parking

A new parking lot opened last year, another partnership this time between the city and Crown Point Public Library.

The 60-space parking lot offers all-day parking. A shared dumpster for all adjacent businesses frees up additional parking spaces, as does the removal of half an island.

Julie Wendorf
Julie Wendorf

Library Director Julie Wendorf was happy to work with the city on the parking lot project. It serves library patrons and others who go downtown.

In addition, the city added 33 street parking spaces.

“As our city continues to grow, we want residents and visitors to be able to enjoy a walkable and inviting downtown area. Enhancing parking in and around the square is one way to do that,” Land said.

Bulldog Park helps with parking too. Celebrating festivals there means the courthouse square is not frequently closed to traffic in the busy downtown.

Beyond books

The library has come a long way since 2012, when it moved into its current location at 122 N. Main St.

“The library has been actively serving the community since 1903,” when it opened, Wendorf said. Previous locations were all near the courthouse square. The library also has a branch at 10771 Randolph St.

Wendorf was hired in 2015 as the library’s first programming and outreach librarian. Festival participation “really made a big splash,” she said. “We had an extraordinary response to that.”

“By getting out to the public, we could talk about all the things the library offers.”

In addition to the usual books, audiobooks, CDs, DVDs and other materials, the library also checks out Discovery STEAM backpacks for kids.

In Wendorf’s initial role with the library, she began changing the way the library interacts with other entities. Partnerships have deepened. For example, the city’s trolley is used to provide around 10 tours of historical homes each summer. A reference assistant researched information on the homes using the library’s Indiana Room.

A story walk outside the library is a partnership with the city, as is a storytime during the corn roast and Tour of Lights.

“By working together, we just make them bigger and better,” Wendorf said.

In the classroom

Crown Point Community School Corp. Superintendent Todd Terrill said a recent demographics study that included Winfield and Cedar Lake as well as Crown Point showed 6,000 new houses are coming in the next few years. However, projected enrollment growth is fewer than 200 students. The new homes being built aren’t starter homes but maybe a second or third home for the people buying them.

Timothy Ball Elementary School
Students sign a beam for use during the renovation of Timothy Ball Elementary School, which includes 13 more classrooms. (Photo provided by Crown Point Community School Corp.)

“That says a lot about society in general, as well as the Crown Point area, frankly,” Terrill said.

All the development happening in Crown Point and the surrounding area includes about $350 million in capital projects by the school district. All of the work is being done without a referendum.

“We’re building a new middle school (Taft) to replace a middle school, which has been around for more than 70 years and in desperate need of an upgrade,” Terrill said.

At Wheeler Middle School, an auditorium similar to the one at Taft is being added.

Four of seven elementaries are undergoing extensive renovations. Cafeterias are becoming media centers, and the existing media centers are becoming STEM facilities.

Preschool classrooms are being added to every elementary building with the goal of making each elementary school capable of handling 700 students.

“You know people were thinking that our community was going to grow uncontrollably, and that has been a big pushback in our city with the growth and the new housing developments that are going in,” Terrill said. “But it’s really more than just being able to handle additional student populations in those buildings. It’s looking at how do we teach students.”

The schools are being prepared to teach the full spectrum, from needy students and special education accommodations to gifted and talented students, from college prep to career and technical education.

“Once you’re done with all the construction and the infrastructure, then you know you’ve got a wonderful facility to use until you need to renovate it in another 10, 15, 20 years,” Terrill said.

Partnerships lead to success

Like the library’s facilities and PACE’s upgrades, the schools not only serve students but the community as well.

The fire department practices rescues at the high school pool. Police and firefighters use the schools for training sessions.

Other community groups use the schools for meetings and other purposes.

Bulldog Park is adjacent to Wheeler Middle School, allowing the city and school system to share facilities as they partner with each other.

Mayor Land, who praises partnerships, invites dialogue with residents at monthly community forums. Residents ask questions about issues close to home, like missed garbage collections or specific roads that need attention. But they also offer feedback.

“(Residents) want great amenities. They want choices, even if they don’t take advantage of them,” Land said.

Working together has helped Crown Point to keep that hometown atmosphere and great quality of life — especially with growth on the horizon.

Click here to read more from the April-May 2023 issue of Northwest Indiana Business Magazine.


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