One Region and regional elected officials and leaders just returned to Northwest Indiana after a two-day bus trip to three Chicago suburbs and Milwaukee, WI. They toured multifamily and mixed-use developments, each with their own unique qualities, to envision the future of Northwest Indiana’s transit development districts along the expanded South Shore Rail line.
“Ensuring that Northwest Indiana leverages the rail investment made by the state and federal governments is one of our Propel priorities, said One Region board chair, Craig Dwight, Chairman and CEO of Horizon Bank, who also sponsored the trip. Convening stakeholders to learn about transit-oriented development (TOD) will help us attract and retain future talent and ultimately create a more vibrant place to live.”
ATG Real Estate Development, First Financial Bank, Strack & Van Til, and The Times Media Company were also sponsors of this multi-day event.
“One Region was proud to host this group of influential leaders and elected officials from Lake, Porter, and La Porte counties. We carefully planned this trip to create value for each of our South Shore Rail Line stations so that each municipality can envision the future of their TOD, said Marie Foster-Bruns, president & CEO of One Region. “Each bus stop on this August 30 and 31 tour had purposeful programming designed to provide attendees with the opportunity to learn from experts about various topics.”
A steering committee comprised of Sherri Ziller, Ty Warner, Heather Ennis, Angie Nelson Deuitch, Pete Novak, Phil Taillon, Sara Soneye, Dave Wellman, and Foster-Bruns spent months discussing the locations and programming to maximize learning opportunities for attendees.
Oak Park, IL, was their first stop, where attendees enjoyed breakfast and a panel discussion at the Albion, a 265-unit mixed-use luxury development with 7,500 SF of ground-floor retail in the heart of the downtown and located two blocks from a rail line. The group convened in the Sky Lounge and heard remarks from Village President Vicki Scaman and economic development leaders Cory Wesley, John Lynch, and Tammie Grossman about how the Village has been positively impacted by TOD and the importance of planning and community engagement throughout the process.
“It was interesting to learn directly from the Village President and economic development team in Oak Park,” commented Thomas Vander Woude, Planning Director for the Town of Munster. “Through planning and meaningful community involvement, they’ve leveraged their commuter rail station to facilitate development that supports their community’s values. It was helpful to hear their lessons-learned and to see the scale and quality of development in Oak Park.”
Following the discussion and gorgeous sky lounge views, the group rode to Glenview, IL, where they stopped at The Glen, a hub of retail, entertainment, and residential development, to explore the mixed-use town center for shopping and lunch.
“Experiencing the vibrancy of The Glen allowed me to envision this type of access and walkability in Northwest Indiana,” remarked One Region member Eric Evans of First Financial Bank, who also sponsored the trip. “Having two floors of living space above retail or a craft brewery would make life so much easier to navigate. Coffee shops, Thai food, shoe stores, and dry cleaning would all be within walking distance from my living room.”
“Adding to The Glen’s walkability are amenities like fountains, gathering spaces, and trails. We could duplicate similar developments in Northwest Indiana, and a person could get off the South Shore Line and have access to entertainment, trails like the Marquette Greenway, and grocery shopping within walking distance,” added Kelly Anoe, president & CEO of Legacy Foundation. “Some of our TOD could even provide walkable and bikeable access to the Indiana Dunes National Park.”
The next stop was a visit to the Wheeling Town Center, about ten minutes away from The Glen and in the heart of Wheeling, IL, next to the Metra station.
“We were driving in a normal, Midwestern-style town and suddenly saw modern housing and several blocks of lively living near a train station. It caught me by surprise, and I realized that we don’t have to upgrade our whole city to incorporate TOD, just some areas around the station,” commented Maggi Spartz, president of the Unity Foundation of La Porte County.
The Wheeling Town Center features 100,000 square feet of retail space and 301 residential apartment units. It includes restaurants, an entertainment venue, and a luxury theater with 40,000 square feet of space and ten screens.
Patrick Ainsworth, director of economic development for the Village of Wheeling, and Brad Friedman of the Lynmark Group met the attendees to give a brief presentation before taking them on a walking tour of the TOD and surrounding assets. Located next to Wheeling Town Center is a green space with fields, paths, a lake, water slides, and the Performance Pavilion of Heritage Park.
“I could easily envision people coming off the train after a 30-minute commute from Chicago, walking to their apartments, dropping off their bags, and heading down to Mia’s Cantina for a quick bite with friends. We could have the same scenario in our transit development district, said Phil Taillon, chief of staff to the mayor of Hammond.”
After the walking tour, the group relaxed in the movie theater’s recliners while listening to Ainsworth and Friedman explain the various partnerships, necessary planning, and financing options behind their TOD project. An interactive Q&A session then took place for attendees to get advice and ask questions related to logistics, financing, planning, and the greater impact of TOD.
After reboarding the bus, the group drove through Drexel Town Square in Oak Creek, WI, an 85-acre in-fill site featuring a mixture of traffic-generating uses. It was built in anticipation of attracting a future Amtrak stop. Similar to Wheeling, the middle 20 acres were developed as a traditional downtown area with first-floor retail uses and upper-floor residential apartments, but they also have a public library, a hotel, outdoor amphitheater, splash pad, and skating rink in the Winter. The western 25 acres includes market-rate apartments, trails, and a medical office.
Finally, attendees arrived in Milwaukee, WI, where they stayed at Brewhouse Inn and Suites, a redeveloped Pabst Blue Ribbon brewery nestled in the Brewery District, Milwaukee’s newest downtown neighborhood designed with sustainability and historic preservation. The hotel showcases many of the building’s original features, like the massive iconic copper brewing kettles.
The group was joined by several leaders from Milwaukee for a powerful panel discussion during dinner about courage and empowerment. Milwaukee County Executive, David Crowley, was joined by Que El-Amin, president of Scott Crawford Inc., Rafael Garcia, executive director at Community First, and Ian Abston of the Hoan Group. They discussed the importance of building trust and working together to make change happen.
“This speaking panel was one of the most significant conversations of the trip,” said Michael Schneider, group senior vice president, commercial banking at Wintrust and One Region board member. “Each panelist described unique visions to strengthen Milwaukee, and they are passionately and collaboratively pursuing these plans to enrich their communities through trust and persistence. They celebrate diversity, community, and supporting future generations.”
Abston, who passionately led a successful campaign to light the Hoan Bridge by empowering future generations in Milwaukee, invited the group to a post-dinner tour of the city and a customized light show across the shore of the Milwaukee River. He controlled the lights from his phone and shared details about the bridge project and how it has contributed to Milwaukee’s quality of life.
“The bridge has become a unifier,” explained Abston, “when Ukraine was attacked, we lit the bridge with blue and yellow to show solidarity and for the city to gather and express their grief together. Whether we celebrate a Bucks win, welcome a U.S. President with red, white, and blue lights, or enjoy Cinco de Mayo, the bridge is an expression of the people of Milwaukee. It’s a reminder that when we are cheering, laughing, or crying, we are unified.”
Conversations emerged about how these rail projects in Northwest Indiana are also unifiers of the Region.
“We are connected by rail, trails, data and will soon be connected by TOD communities,” said Clarence Hulse, executive director of the Economic Development Corporation Michigan City. “We can also celebrate our individuality and togetherness through these future town centers and can incorporate creative placemaking like the lights on the Hoan Bridge.”
The group departed early Wednesday morning to explore the Community Within The Corridor located in Sherman Park. It is the largest privately owned affordable housing development in Wisconsin and is in what was once part of the Briggs and Stratton complex on Milwaukee’s Northwest side. It features 197 units in four buildings and more than 60,000 square feet of space for accessory uses that was developed by Scott Crawford, Inc. and Roers Companies. Each unit has unique characteristics with preserved flooring, massive windows, and tall ceilings.
The project will also include 23,000 square feet of commercial space and 40,000 square feet of community and recreational space. Central to this development is the Creative Corridor, which is the community center for residents and surrounding neighborhoods. This building includes a co-working space, child care, access to healthy food, space for nonprofits, a youth entrepreneurship center, barber shop, laundromat, and a podcast room.
“We want to unite communities and provide resources for everyone in this space. Here, young entrepreneurs can build startups, access entrepreneurial resources, and even have their own co-working space,” remarks Que El-Amin, president of Scott Crawford, Inc. “And this community space is sustainable because the commercial tenants will financially support these services for community growth through their leases.”
After returning the hard hats and safety vests, attendees hopped on the bus and rode to West Allis, WI, where Mayor Dan Devine and his economic development team, Patrick Schloss, Shaun Mueller, and Carson Coffield, jumped on the bus to give a personalized tour of the massive transformation underway in their city.
West Allis had weathered several long recessions, the worst of which occurred in the early 1980s when many companies, including Allis-Chalmers, ceased all production in the city. When they left, large building complexes were left abandoned. The city creatively redeveloped these buildings into commercial spaces and created multiple districts around the city, like the emerging Becher Street District, to attract talent and retail investment.
The group departed the bus at The West, a multifamily development, and heard a presentation by Mayor Devine and Schloss on the rooftop lounge overlooking the city.
“The West development is 97% occupied and is one of the housing developments attracting younger generations to West Allis,” said Schloss, executive director for economic development. “This is an example of how our city has transformed from a quiet city that people avoided into a modern, active community that attracts Millennials and Gen Z talent. We are intentionally building a community they seek, so we must be selective with commercial investors to ensure that we get quality restaurants, dense housing, and unique shops that our target populations want.
After the conversation, attendees then explored the locally-owned restaurants and shops on the main level of mixed-use developments along Greenfield Avenue. The Business Improvement District hung signs in their windows welcoming One Region Bus Trip attendees to their shops.
“West Allis provides an impressive blueprint for transformation. From its high expectations to intentional planning by leaders committed to success, this vintage Wisconsin community is a model for all of us looking to combine the very best of what we have with the livable, walkable, lovable cities young families are seeking,” said Sandra Favela, chief of staff to the mayor of East Chicago.
The TOD Bus Trip ended with a final presentation about the Kenosha Innovation Neighborhood. Tim Casey, director of community development for Kenosha, WI, and Brad Strader, principal at MKSK shared how innovation and TOD can come together when purposefully planning for mixed-use, multifamily developments.
“When the Chrysler departed Kenosha, we were left with empty buildings and land. To unite people, revitalize our neighborhoods, and diversify our talent pool, we are collaborating with universities, business leaders, and elected officials to develop this innovation neighborhood. With the gBETA accelerator and Best Buy Teen Tech Center coming to Kenosha, we are building a community similar to the vision around Gary’s Best Buy Teen Tech Center,” said Casey.
Foster-Bruns chimed in, “The key is collaboration and commitment. There’s not one entity that can own innovation and community development. It takes all of us to build trust and remain focused. That’s why One Region hosted this bus trip in coordination with a steering committee of regional leaders. We are all committed to an enriching future in Northwest Indiana, starting with the champions who attended this bus trip.