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Northwest Indiana takes to heart Burnham’s famous appeal, “Make no little plans….”

The Marquette Plan: A Lakeshore Reinvestment Strategy for Northwest Indiana was a collaborative effort of the communities of East Chicago, Gary, Hammond, Portage and Whiting, Ind., the Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources, and U.S. Rep. Peter J. Visclosky (D–Ind.) In 2007, the visioning process was expanded to include lakefront stakeholders in Indiana’s Porter and LaPorte counties. The goal was to establish a unified, long-term vision for Northwest Indiana’s revitalization through lakeshore reclamation, and to outline a strategy for increasing public access to Lake Michigan and diversifying business and employment opportunities in shoreline communities. The Marquette Plan encompasses a comprehensive land use vision — revitalized lakefront for the general public and industry — across the nearly 40 miles of Indiana lakefront. 

MPC selected the Marquette Plan as its recipient of the Burnham Award in 2007, not only for its ambitious mission to extend the sweeping lakefront and “emerald necklace” as envisioned by Burnham, but because it represented the power of individual communities working together to benefit the entire region. They had lofty goals: increase public access to Lake Michigan, develop pedestrian and bicycle trailways, and restore ecosystems, while spurring economic development in beachfront communities. What’s remarkable is how, in just a few years and in the midst of an economic downturn – and with the support of U.S. Rep Visclosky and other federal legislators, the State of Indiana, Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA), Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, and others – many of the communities have done more than just “dream big.” They’ve seen results. 

Portage’s brand-new Lakefront Park and Riverwalk, operated in conjunction with the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, created new public beachfront and has been a catalytic project driving improvements in Portage. Built on a reclaimed 60-acre industrial brownfield site, the park’s amenities include a pavilion, breakwater, fishing pier, riverwalk, and hiking and biking trails.

The City of Hammond has added multi-use paths and restored habitat with its ecosystem revitalization project for Wolf Lake. Just recently, the RDA awarded the city more than $31 million, as part of a three-year plan to construct and rebuild recreational amenities in the Hammond Lakes area.  

The Marquette Plan centers on linking the municipal lakefronts of the region to the broader economy, and beautiful Whiting Park is just one such element. The 22-acre park is undergoing major infrastructure reinvestment to enhance existing uses, while creating stronger pathways to downtown Whiting and a larger greenway network that connects a bi-state region.

Gary will be renovating Marquette Park, with its vast beachfront, historic buildings, lagoons, and trails. With financing committed by the RDA, Gary will rehabilitate the park’s recreational facilities, and strengthen its linkages to a nearby transit station and commercial corridor.

East Chicago’s vision is to reconnect the North Harbor neighborhood to a recreational lakefront. New housing, city parks, the Carnegie Performing Arts Center, and brownfield redevelopment near the marina and lakefront are signs that the city is moving towards a brighter future. 

Many more projects are under consideration as the Marquette Plan – no little plan, indeed – does its part to carry forward Burnham’s intent to preserve the Lake Michigan shoreline for recreation, industry and communities alike.

With contribution from Tina Rongers, Policy Analytics, LLC, consultant to the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority.

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