Inside lakefront plan
By George Castle,
In the office of Whiting mayor Joe Stahura, directly behind his chair is a portrait of John F. Kennedy, a personal hero. Photos of Whiting achievers are also on prominent display.
But the baseball fan in Stahura does not take a back seat. More photos of all-time Cubs are also affixed to the walls. As a youngster, Stahura lived – and died – with the 1969 Cubs, an iconic team built around four eventual Hall of Famers. On a table is a bat signed by the majority of mayors in the state of Indiana.
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“Is there a better place for a baseball museum than Whiting?” asked Stahura, 60, as if the Whiting native didn't know the answer already. “If you ask me, the answer is no. Of course, some people may say I'm a bit biased . . .”
The Cubs aren't the only passion for Stahura, who has been married for 37 years. In his third term, the man known as Mayor Joe has a bold vision for his native town – the “Little Gem,” as he calls it -- which he believes will turn it into a destination location before long.
“When you think of Whiting, you think of the downtown business district still being a viable area,” Stahura said. “But most people don’t realize we have 2 ½ miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. Once we put that acreage back into play for recreational perspective, that’s a draw in itself.
“There will be fishing piers, a lot of walking and biking trails, nature areas, and special areas where you can hold a party or event, a concert area and retail components.”
If Whiting were compared to a ballpark, then the BP refinery would be its backstop. The corporation was immune to layoffs in the Great Recession. That bit of good fortune kept the city's tax revenues stable and local businesses humming, thanks to patronage from its employees.
“People will be surprised to see how we fit the refinery’s operation into our tourism plan,” Stahura said. “Our draw will be to market what they do well, possibly with refinery tours.”
Stahura doesn’t have enough pull for the refinery to give out free gasoline the way Miller Brewery in Milwaukee ladles out beer samples during its factory tours. But the presence of such a stable business enables Whiting to build dreams and share them with millions of visitors.
A Whiting native, Stahura knows what makes his city tick.
“A major positive about Whiting is that it’s a small, close-knit community,” said Stahura, who can frequently be seen at Beggar's Pizza, one of his favorite local restaurants.
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Welcome to Our New Home
Since 2005, the Chicago Baseball Museum (CBM) has spent much time and effort to establish its presence and respected name in the baseball community. The results of our labor are especially apparent after the last two years, in which we made considerable strides on a number of fronts.
Now, the time has come for the next bold step. CBM is prepared to make the move to a physical structure that will give Chicagoland the kind of baseball experience it deserves, and which we have always planned to provide. This will allow us to reach our full potential as the torch-bearer for local baseball history.
I am proud to announce that our new home will be on the shores of Whiting, Indiana.
Not surprisingly, a decision of this magnitude was not an easy one; it came after more than a year of exhaustive research and intense review. The more we studied the Whiting Lakefront Plan in which we will have a featured role, the more we became convinced that it would put us in the best position to build a solid foundation and provide an affordable, family-oriented experience. That, after all, is the core of our mission.
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Whiting, Indiana Lakefront Vision (PDF)
Whiting, Indiana Lakefront Plan Objectives for Phase II (PDF)
CHICAGO TRIBUNE NEWS (12.01.2013) >>
Chicago Tribune Story on ChicagoTribune.com
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Chicago Tribune Story download (PDF 1mb)
To be sure, there have been numerous opinions over the years about where the CBM should be located. Reasonable arguments have been made for each one of them.
In the spring of 2012, Whiting Mayor Joe Stahura expressed the desire to have CBM become a centerpiece of the aggressive renovation the lakefront. While the offer was generous and sincere, CBM asked the same detailed questions of the Whiting opportunity as of all others. Months later, we are confident that the answers are so right and this great American city has hit the ball out of the park. Our partnership can be beneficial for CBM, Whiting and, most important, millions of potential visitors.
There are myriad reasons for our unbridled optimism about this permanent home. Served by the Chicago television and media market (ranked #3 in the United States), Whiting is only 22 minutes by car from Chicago, and travel by train is easy. The proposed location of the Chicago Baseball Museum is closer to U.S. Cellular Field, home of the Chicago White Sox, than is O’Hare International Airport and only six miles farther from O’Hare than is the Cubs’ Wrigley Field. As CBM Executive Director Paul Ladewski put it so well, Whiting will offer the best of both worlds: small-town charm and convenience with big-city access and amenities only miles away.
Thank you for your support. We look forward to seeing you at our new home in the future.
President and CEO
The Chicago Baseball Museum will be a short walk to the renovated Whiting lakefront area.
Why Here? Why Now? Let Us Count The Ways ...
Where can one time-travel through local baseball history, have feel-good moments with furry mascots, eat and shop in the business district, hit the beach along scenic Lake Michigan and have a picnic at a nearby park, all in one day?
The answer will soon be Whiting, Ind., now in the midst of a massive makeover in which the Chicago Baseball Museum (CBM) will be a featured attraction. The CBM plans to partner with the National Mascot Hall of Fame in a 40,000-square foot facility, one of the largest of its kind in the Midwest, if not the country.
At a time when financial limitations are the rule across the nation, Whiting is headed in a different direction. Assisted in no small way by the corporate support of British Petroleum (BP), which has its largest Midwest refinery there, the city of 5,000 residents has big plans. The primary goal is to become a one-day and weekend destination for locals and tourists alike.
Here's why CBM has selected Whiting to be its home:
Only 22 minutes from Downtown Chicago, Whiting is part of the Chicago Metropolitan Area, which includes 9.6 million residents in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. Nearly two-thirds of them live within a one-hour drive to the site. In a recent market study conducted on our behalf, a large majority of respondents indicated a preference to keep a trip to a museum under 60 minutes. Whiting is comparable in population to Cooperstown, N.Y., home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. What is incomparable is that visitors to Whiting will also have the benefits of a world-renowned city so very close. Larger map >>
The importance of close proximity to the third-largest market in the country cannot be understated, and Whiting is located only 18.5 miles from State and Madison Streets, the epicenter of Chicago. The Museum will be within short reach of U.S. Cellular Field and the Chicago White Sox or Cubs and Wrigley Field. Seventeen cities with populations of at least 100,000 residents are located within 250 miles of the Chicagoland area, which speaks to the potential for regional attraction.
The master plan calls for a four-star hotel, name retail stores and up-scale restaurants in the downtown area. The Hammond-based Horseshoe Casino is only three miles away, while Oil City Stadium is little more than a tape-measure home run from the Museum site. In addition to special events, the ballpark hosts the Midwest Collegiate League and will be an active component of the Museum plans. The highly successful Pierogi Fest draws large numbers each summer, and another popular attraction is Whihala Beach, only a few blocks from downtown Whiting.
Research shows too many museums have mortgaged their futures for short-term gains without the desired results. Whiting represents a low-risk, high-reward opportunity that will enable CBM to become an artistic and financial success now and in the future. Assisted by a public-private partnership with BP, which operates its largest Midwest refinery in the area, officials of the city have taken a proactive approach to solidify its future.
Our study found that a large percentage of families desire a hassle-free experience at a reasonable cost. These are priorities for them. Downtown Whiting is highly concentrated in a compact, pedestrian-friendly, safe and secure setting. Relatively low rents and sales prices encourage unique stores and food shops, operated by local entrepreneurs. Not only will the Museum be readily accessible, but its affordable prices and complimentary parking will appeal to visitors as well.