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Michigan City's Station Block agreement called 'amazing' and 'transformational'

MICHIGAN CITY — Just in time for the developer information session they hosted Thursday, the Michigan City Redevelopment Commission voted unanimously to formally adopt a joint development agreement between the city and NICTD on the 11th Street Station Block.

“We’ve worked very diligently and hard in partnership with Mike Noland and Connor Nolan at NICTD to get this thing done,” city planning director Skyler York said, calling the agreement “an integral and crucial part of the [request for proposals] process.”

RDC attorney Alan Sirinek said, “I think the city should feel that we have a true partner with NICTD. I think NICTD should feel they have a true partner in Michigan City. I think the agreement represents a document that we can share with potential developers for this project; and they will look at it as saying that there’s a true partnership here.”

According to Sirinek, Oct. 5 was the “drop dead” date on having the agreement in place; so, the Oct. 4 vote was to determine whether NICTD and the city would seek out private developers to build a parking garage in the station block, or whether the plan would revert to NICTD’s original concept for a parking structure with 40 feet of space for development by the city.

Ruth Wuorenma of Neighborhood Capital Institute, who has consulted on the project for the RDC, was pleased with the decision to pursue a private development contract.

“This is a really big day. ... This represents so much long-term work,” she said. “… What the city has done in collaboration with NICTD is get to the first joint development agreement that’s [Federal Transit Administration] approved in the Chicago region or northern Indiana.

“It was a difficult day to get here because this is not off-the-shelf stuff. This is all new ground, and we’re all learning it as we go. And every single person involved on this really had to roll up their sleeves, look at things with fresh eyes and go forward.”

Wuorenma said that as of last Monday, the city’s request for proposals had already received 1,600 hits – only a quarter of those from the Chicago area, and the rest from locations across the country.

“This project puts you in a much more prominent position within the much broader region,” she said. “And we’re looking forward to seeing a strong, positive response from Thursday that will allow you to go forward.”

Mayor Duane Parry said, “I want to salute all of you. You did the heavy lifting; you did a marvelous job. We’ve reached the peak. This makes us a national player. This is great for Michigan City. It’s going to move us forward ... in the right direction.”

RDC President Chris Chatfield also commented on the “very rewarding but very difficult” process that had led them to that point.

“It’s celebratory that we’re to the next step,” he said. “It does not mean that there is not hard work to be done. ... There’s this timeline piece that you put in place, but there’s still lots of hard work, lots of hard decisions in meetings. But I think it was paramount for us to get here today.

“The look and feel and view of the station block with a private developer is going to be amazing and maybe somewhat transformational in where we look at 11th Street today.”

A Station Block update is on the agenda for the RDC’s regular meeting Wednesday.

The project, also known as “11th Street Central,” calls for a private developer to build a mixed-use, multi-modal hub, with mandatory South Shore Line requirements, including 436 commuter parking spaces, a train station office and waiting area within the 65,300-square-foot station block, which is bound by Franklin Street on the west, 10th Street on the north, Pine Street on the east and 11th Street on the south.

Parry has expressed previously that the selected developer will need to preserve the historic façade of the original station.

He also said the project must adhere to the “aggressive time frame” of being completed along with NICTD’s double track by May 2024.

In its request for proposals, the city has specified that it is open to a range of mixed-use projects and up to 10 floors in height.

Michigan City Walk to End Alzheimer's raises over $45K for care, support and research

MICHIGAN CITY — More than 150 residents participated in this year’s Michigan City Walk to End Alzheimer’s and made it an overwhelming success.

The 160 participants in the event, comprising 34 teams, raised $45,004 – and counting – to support the care, support and research programs of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Walkers could take part in the event either in person at Washington Park, or by watching an online ceremony and walking from home in their own neighborhoods.

“We are grateful to all of our sponsors, our volunteers and each and every participant who joined us this weekend – whether in person or at home,” said Katie Rizer, manager of the local event.

“While the in-person event looked different than in years past, we heard from so many participants that coming together again – even with social distancing and other COVID precautions in place – meant a lot to them, especially after such a challenging year.”

The organizers’ goal was $45,000, and after surpassing that, they say more fundraising events are planned before the end of the year.

“Thank you, Michigan City ... From the guy who was riding past on his bicycle and decided to make a donation to the gentleman who came from Atlanta to support his family/friends and the Alzheimer’s Association mission – you are amazing,” Rizer said.

“And another shout out and virtual hug to our volunteers and sponsors who showed up during a pandemic to make sure that no one ever feels alone on this journey. I am so grateful for each one of you.”

Fundraising will continue through the end of the year, and those who didn’t participate can still make a donation to the Walk at act.alz.org/MichiganCity.

Donations are vital because the need keeps growing, according to Natalie Sutton, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Indiana Chapter.

“No one facing dementia should go through their journey alone. We are here to support Hoosiers who are living with the disease and their families at every stage, from providing education about signs and symptoms to information on late-stage caregiving.

“Every dollar raised helps keep those programs available and free of charge.”

More than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease – a leading cause of death in the United States, Sutton said.

Additionally, more than 11 million family members and friends provide care to people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

In Indiana alone, there are more than 110,000 people living with the disease and 215,000 caregivers, she said.

Information and registration for local in-person and virtual programs is available at alz.org/Indiana/programs or the 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900.

Commission member Morris frustrated by lack of progress to eliminate gerrymandering in Indiana

La PORTE — Even with some changes made to its legislative district maps in 2021, Indiana is still considered among the most gerrymandered states in the country.

“Redistricting is really an important issue ... and it suffers from a malady called gerrymandering,” said Leigh Morris, a member of the Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission.

The former mayor of La Porte discussed the state’s recent redistricting at Monday’s meeting of the La Porte Rotary, of which he is a member.

Gerrymandering is the concept that the party in power draws legislative districts to guarantee its future success.

“This has been a problem that has bothered Indiana for a while and we were hoping to maybe improve it a bit this year,” Morris said.

When a census is completed every 10 years, each state must go through a redistricting process to make sure districts represent the new population trends.

Gerrymandering is not a Republican or Democrat issue, Morris said. “Both parties are equally guilty...

“In Indiana it’s gotten worse ... by a number of different measures, Indiana is considered one of the most gerrymandered states.”

Over the past 20 years Morris has gone to the General Assembly and talked to legislators about the need for change.

“I got the same message every year, even from members of the General Assembly who were in favor of some changes.

“They said, ‘You know, this is not a big problem for the people of Indiana. I don’t hear from the people about a problem with gerrymandering so until it’s really something that the people are pushing, it’s probably not going to be addressed’,” he said.

The League of Women Voters of Indiana, Common Cause Indiana and about 23 other organizations formed the All In for Democracy Coalition, which focuses on the need for an independent redistricting commission.

“That would do the spade work on redistricting after the census figures are available and would draw the maps in such a way that they represent the population and the people in Indiana,” Morris said.

The group did not get a warm reception from the General Assembly.

“We don’t have any authority, but we wanted to demonstrate to the General Assembly how a multi-partisan group – such as an independent commission – can do the job, draw the maps fairly and equitably, and eliminate the gerrymandering,” Morris said.

The commission included three Democrats, three Republicans and three individuals never associated with either party. Morris was one of the Republican members.

He said the commission held public meetings in all nine congressional districts so the public could provide input.

More than 1,000 people participated, and a transcript of the hearings was given to every member of the General Assembly.

“In that process we really worked through a number of priorities. We said there are laws that require certain things to be done with redistricting,” Morris said.

The population has to be exact in terms of congressional districts and districts must be contiguous.

“We think they also ought to be drawn in such a way that they are politically competitive. In other words, don’t stack the population in such a way that there’s no way a person from another party could ever be elected,” he said.

Though 55 percent of Hoosiers are Republicans, Morris said the party has 80 percent of current representation.

“We think competitive districts are important. We also said, you ought to be sensitive to communities of interest – not separate them,” Morris said.

The process, he said, needs to be more transparent with public input once maps are drawn.

“We didn’t succeed with getting transparency because that redistricting was done in the dark of night, behind closed doors, in very short time,” Morris said.

The commission sponsored a map-drawing competition and the winning maps were shared with the members of the General Assembly.

“We had software available, and all the demographics were available to people to try their hand at drawing maps ... they felt would be fair and competitive,” Morris said.

The outcome, Morris said, was new maps which are replications of 2011’s approach – with a few exceptions.

“They’re equally gerrymandered as they were in the past,” he said.

The biggest impact for La Porte County is the change in the 2nd Congressional District. The city of La Porte is now divided between the 1st and 2nd districts.

“The city of La Porte is now being split into two districts – we’ve always been in the second district. Otherwise, the map is basically the same – seven Republican representatives and two Democrats, and really no opportunity to change that pattern,” Morris said.

Maps for both the state Senate and House are essentially the same. In Northwest Indiana there were minor adjustments in Lake County to account for a population shift from north to south.

Morris said the efforts of the commission at least brought attention to the redistricting process.

“I think we’ve encouraged a greater understanding of what’s involved ... I think we want to continue that this is not an adversarial approach – this is a partnership with the General Assembly,” he said.

The commission also believes Indiana, along with 13 other states, should move to an independent redistricting commission, established by law to draw maps and propose them to the General Assembly.

“You’ll see us working very diligently and very hard to get that independent redistricting commission established,” Morris said.

The goal is to move Indiana from a being a state where voter turnout is among the lowest in the nation to one of the highest.

In 2014, Indiana was 50th in voter turnout. In 2020 Indiana improved to 42nd.

“That’s ridiculous that Indiana is in that position. Quite frankly, we believe it’s the impact of gerrymandering,” Morris said.

New Prairie math teacher Steve Wade, an announcer and scorekeeper at the high school since 1985, was recently honored with the Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrator’s Association Distinguished Service Award for his contributions.

Author Edward Curtis to touch on Muslim history in Michigan City during library presentation
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MICHIGAN CITY — Arab American author Edward E. Curtis IV plans to surprise audiences in Michigan City with the early Islamic history of their own community.

He will speak at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Michigan City Public Library’s Writing Out Loud series.

Curtis – who has published 13 books on the Muslim, Arab and Black American experience – will share some local facts area residents might not be familiar with about their own city.

The William M. and Gail M. Plater Chair of the Liberal Arts, and a professor of religious studies at IUPUI is an Arab American from southern Illinois. Curtis traces his roots to the Samaha and Hamaway families who immigrated from Ottoman Syria to his home region before World War I.

He moved to Indianapolis in 2005 when IUPUI offered him an endowed professorship in the School of Liberal Arts. He has written for the Journal of American History, American Quarterly, the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, and Religion and American Culture.

The Herald-Dispatch recently spoke to Curtis about his career and what he will be covering in Michigan City.

H-D: How did you get into writing?

A: My junior high English teacher in southern Illinois made us keep daily journals. I started writing then, and I haven’t stopped yet.

H-D: Why did you pursue religious and African studies?

A: I have always been religious, and I started pursuing the academic study of religion in high school. During my first semester at Kenyon College, I took a course on Classical Islam and I have been hooked on Islamic studies ever since then.

My focus on Black studies also comes from a deep personal investment. I started to read Black literature in grade school, and the Black experience helped me understand my own history as a person of color growing up in the rural Midwest.

H-D: What are some facts/trivia people might not know about the history of Muslims in America that would surprise them?

A: Muslims are the only major religious group in the United States in which no one race is a majority; Muslims are Black, brown and white.

Muslim Americans have served in the U.S. military since the American Revolution. Michigan City Muslims have served since World War I.

H-D: What led to your latest book, “Muslims of the Heartland: How Syrian Immigrants Made a Home in the American Midwest,” being written?

A: The book begins with a family secret. I won’t spoil it here, but suffice it to say that this is personal for me.

H-D: “Muslims in America: A Short History” was ranked among the 100 best books of 2009 by Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal called your two-volume “Encyclopedia of Muslim-American History” one of the “best reference works of 2010.” How did these books come about?

A: They were both commissions. Professors Jon Butler and Harry Stout of Yale asked me to write the first one. A publisher called Facts on File offered me the chance to edit the second.

H-D: Your books “Black Muslim Religion of the Nation of Islam,” “The New Black Gods” and “Islam in Black America” share a common theme of Black American religions. What led to these books?

A: In graduate school I focused on the question of why African Americans chose to become Muslim and how Islam mattered to their lives. I trained in Black studies, U.S. history, and Islamic studies in order to answer that question.

H-D: What did you find surprising while studying the Nation of Islam and other Black religions in the U.S.?

A: About the Nation of Islam: if you study a religion long enough, those things that at first seem completely strange – like the Nation of Islam’s beliefs in UFOs – begin to seem completely normal, whether you agree with those beliefs or not.

H-D: Can you describe your work with the Arab Indianapolis community history project?

A: Everybody knows that there are a lot of Arab Americans in Detroit. But the history of Arab Americans in Indianapolis has been completely buried and hidden. I am partnering with Arab American community members to help tell that story for the first time.

Instead of publishing an academic book that no one will read, we are making a public television documentary, writing a coffee table book of photographs, creating a website and more.

H-D: What can audiences expect when you speak in Michigan City?

A: You will likely learn something new about your town. I read a lot of the books about the town’s history, but until I got my hands on some old microfilm, I did not know that Muslims played a central role in the lively Michigan City wrestling scene. I am going to introduce you to Michigan City’s favorite Muslim wrestler.

The Michigan City Public Library is located at 100 E. 4th St. For more information, go to mclib.org. For more information on Curtis, visit edward-curtis.com.