Tri-Land Properties eyes $50M convention center for Century Plaza

By RJ Johnson April 29, 2019

The owner of Century Plaza in Merrillville, IN presented a $50 million proposal that would have a convention center operational on the Broadway and U.S. 30 site in two years and add hotels and restaurants to the stagnating property.

Richard Dube, president of Westmont, Ill.-based Tri-Land Properties Inc., told the Merrillville Town Council at its March 26 meeting the company probably could finance the project itself at first and would not need a food and beverage tax, but asked the town for financial incentives.

“How can we begin a dialogue with the Town of Merrillville? How can we put a package together to get it accomplished,” Dube asked council members.

Dube’s proposal includes transforming the 143,000-square-foot former Burlington Coat Factory building into the convention center with several meeting rooms built in the interior, and adding three hotels and four to six additional restaurants, landscaping, curbs and gutters to the plaza’s footprint.

“The environment would be completely transformed on the south side to support the north side of the property,” Dube said.

He pointed out that the former Burlington Coat Factory building has the same square footage that a study conducted last year recommended for a convention center in the region, and that the needed traffic signals, access points and drainage are already in place, resulting in an overall cost savings over starting from scratch.

Councilman Shawn Pettit, D-6th, said Century Plaza is already in the Broadway tax increment financing district, but can’t benefit from it because there are three outstanding debts from the district, all involving the Ameriplex at the Crossroads.

He added that the town has taken steps to create a new TIF district around the White Lodging property, the former Radisson complex, at U.S. 30 and Interstate 65, for whatever new development takes place there.

Pettit asked if Dube could fully fund the project, and if so, if he was amenable to receiving a certain annual reimbursement from the town in a mutually agreed upon amount.

Town Manager Bruce Spires said the money would come from the Broadway TIF draw the town gets twice a year.

“We would use the increment from what the project produces,” Spires said.

Pettit said he would talk to the town’s TIF adviser to see what increment it could get on the revamped Century Plaza property.

“The main objective tonight is to get the project moving forward and to get the dialogue going,” Town Attorney Joseph Svetanoff said.

Pettit added, however, that before the town invests any money to the project it wants to see a memorandum from an entity willing to operate the convention center.

Speros Batistatos, president and CEO of the South Shore Convention & Visitors Authority, said the CVA would not operate the convention center, but would work with a private company that specializes in in running them. He advised the town to talk to two private companies in particular.

“You would have an answer (on who would operate the center) before the first shovel hits the ground,” Batistatos said.

Batistatos urged town officials to maximize both the Century Mall and White Lodging properties instead of choosing one over the other.

“We need a convention center,” he said, pointing out the White project, The Farm at the Crossroads, includes a smaller conference space among its amenities.

Batistatos said there are two proposals for a convention center — the Century Plaza site and a site off Interstate 94 by Hammond and Highland.

Robert Forster, chairman of the CVA board of directors and a Town of Merrillville appointee, said he personally would like to see the convention center in Merrillville.

While Batistatos said the convention and visitors authority remains neutral in the matter, he believes Dube’s plan is viable.

“From our perspective, may the best man win,” he said, adding, “This site gets the convention center up and running in two years. That’s a big deal.”

Content was re-purposed from Karen Caffarini is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.

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