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(rshsdepot) Michigan City, IN

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What's next for station?
By Jeff Tucker

Michigan City officials are talking with the owner of the former South Shore
station on 11th Street about creating a public-private partnership honoring
the historic railroad and improving the current site.

While no offers have been made, Mayor Sheila Brillson said the project could
enable the city to join a group of museums throughout the South Shore
corridor, being promoted by a group called the South Shore Line Heritage
Foundation Inc. That group is proposing to establish a series of
mini-museums throughout the South Shore corridor called "The 90-Mile

Station owner Ben Weinschneider of Chicago said he initiated the recent
talks to try to infuse some new energy into the renovation project, which
has been discussed for years since the station closed in 1987. He said he's
interested in some kind of partnership that would include a museum, loft
apartment, shops and a restaurant, with some space for train passengers to
buy tickets and wait for trains.

"I think it's silly that people have to wait outside in a little Plexiglas
booth when there's a facility there," Weinschneider said.

Gary officials have committed $75,000 for the preliminary architecture for
the "main museum" at a site in that city, and the National Park Service has
acquired more than a dozen of the South Shore's vintage railroad cars to
donate to the museums.

"We've discussed our interest in being the epicenter of that 90-mile museum
group," Brillson said. "I think this community puts a tremendous value on
the historic station and the South Shore's role in our community's history."

Brillson wrote the South Shore in March, encouraging railroad officials to
reinvest in Michigan City's two stations, the 11th Street station and the
city's other South Shore stop at Carroll Avenue.

City officials have wanted to restore the 1920s-era 11th Street station for
years since it closed Nov. 11, 1987, after the railroad filed bankruptcy.
They also say the 11th Street and Carroll Avenue stations have fallen into
disrepair in recent years.

"The current state of both Michigan City stations discourages tourists from
the areas east and west of our county, a situation that directly impacts the
economics of this community and of NICTD," Brillson wrote. "It is only
reasonable to believe that, with the use of some marketing tools,
modernization of both Michigan City NICTD stations would encourage some of
the 7 million people who visit Michigan City and LaPorte County (annually),
as well as additional tourists, to utilize NICTD's convenient service to
this community."

Brillson said she hopes the former station at 114 E. 11th St. ultimately
will have a mixed use, with enhanced passenger facilities and an outdoor
display of vintage South Shore cars, covered by a canopy. She stressed
negotiations are in their very preliminary stages, and no offers have yet
been made.

After the 11th Street station closed in 1987, it was sold a year later to an
undisclosed buyer represented by Robert Leiby of Leiby Real Estate &
Appraisals, Michigan City. The station was sold again in 1998 to
Weinschneider. Weinschneider's group, The South Shore Station LLC, had plans
to renovate the building, adding upstairs apartments and businesses

The property's value was assessed at $77,500 in March 2001.

City Planner John Pugh said he has known Weinschneider for about three years
and is encouraged by a meeting with him last month.

"We did have a preliminary meeting with the owner, hosted by the mayor, and
I think the tone of that meeting was very positive and will lead us to
future meetings," Pugh said. "I think he is an interested owner, and he
wants very much to be a part of the community and the redevelopment of this
station. I think he really wants to do something."

Pugh said city officials are trying to establish a consortium to redevelop
the station, including Weinschneider, the South Shore Line Heritage
Foundation and Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, owner of
the South Shore Line.

"What we want to do is before we have another meeting with Ben, is to meet
with this railroad foundation group and talk to NICTD in an effort to try
and generate interest and bring Mr. Weinschneider to the table with those
interested groups," Pugh said. "I don't know when we will reach a
conclusion, but the efforts are ongoing and we hope to reach a conclusion

NICTD officials said last month they have no long-term plans to have another
station in Michigan City, beyond the small outdoor shelter now in the
parking lot next to the former 11th Street station. But they said they would
consider leasing some indoor space if someone else developed the 11th Street

They also noted all the museum efforts are handled through the Heritage
Foundation, and NICTD doesn't have the funds or memorabilia needed to start
a museum.

The enhancement of the 11th Street station is a key part of the city's North
End redevelopment plan. The plan includes the redevelopment of the entire
block bounded by 10th and 11th streets, and between Pine and Franklin

The plan released by Arthur Andersen and Camiros consultants in 2001

. Renovating the 11th Street station with a museum, visitor's welcome center
and passenger-intermodal facility.

. A train display.

. Intersection and signal improvements at Wabash, Washington, Franklin and
Pine streets.

. A new parking area.

. New commercial development in the immediate area.

In March, the City Councilman Chuck Lungren led the council in vowing to
make the renovation of the former South Shore station a top priority this
year. Lungren also has been involved in discussions with Weinshneider to
refurbish the station to "its former glory."

"Let's make it a pet project for this council," Lungren said.

Councilwoman Joie Winski said the station could serve as the gateway to the
city's downtown "Golden Triangle," of Blue Chip Casino, Lighthouse
Place-Premium Outlets and Washington Park.

Councilwoman Evelyn Baker said she worked in the 11th Street station for 20
years after completing high school, saying the station used to serve as "the
hub of the whole town. Everyone from around town came there, drunk or sober,
after the bars closed at night. It really was a nice place to go, a nice
place to sit.

"That could again be the hub of the city," Baker said. "That's been one of
my pet projects for so long."

The station's renovation also is supported by various civic groups,
including the Michigan City Mainstreet Association, Michigan City Area
Chamber of Commerce and Elston Grove Neighborhood Association.

"This development is important to the entire city," Ed Kiss of the
Mainstreet Association said after the City Council vowed in March to
prioritize the station's refurbishment. "It is the first impression of
Michigan City that many travelers see. Every day, riders getting off the
South Shore at 11th Street or those traveling through the city by train are
greeted by this image of Michigan City.

"It sends a false image and it doesn't encourage them to shop, visit or
invest in our community."

The South Shore Line, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2003, is
the last electric inter-urban train still operating in the United States.
Its familiar orange cars have become an international icon since the
railroad began with street cars in Michigan City.

The Railroad Station Historical Society maintains a database of existing
railroad structures at: http://www.rrshs.org