Michigan City Mayor Ron Meer dropped by the Ideas in Motion Media office to chat with publisher Chris Mahlmann about all of the positive happenings in Michigan City and La Porte County in advance of the upcoming launch of LaPorteCountyLife.com.
Chris Mahlmann, Ideas in Motion Media Publisher: What I would like folks to get a perspective of is who Ron Meer is. Tell me a little bit about yourself and your connection to La Porte County and to Michigan City.
Ron Meer, Mayor of Michigan City: First of all, thank you for any opportunity to promote La Porte County and Michigan City, Indiana in particular. I am a lifelong resident of La Porte County. I went through the entire Michigan City Area Schools system: grade school, middle school and I graduated from Rogers High School in 1982. Many of my family members actually went to Elston, which is one of the founding high schools in Michigan City. There is a lot of Elston Red Devil blood that still runs strong in Michigan City. My uncle, Newt Meer, was the Athletic Director at Elston for many years. The last time we won a state championship in basketball was 1966, but that is still talked about in our community. This is my home for 48 years now and I worked in city government for 20 years. I also served as a City Councilman for eight years, was the three time president of the City Council, served on the Human Rights Commission in Michigan City and it kind of progressed into the mayor's position. We have a great community. There are some issues, just like every community has, but we're addressing them, and I think that's the important part. You identify what's wrong and then you remedy those problems.
CM: What is it about Michigan City that makes it home for you?
Mayor Meer: We have great people. Lately we've been hearing about the hospitality of people in Michigan City. We're really working hard on that demeanor. We had the big boat grand prix race. I'm a big outdoorsman. We're right on Lake Michigan. We have one of our biggest parks, Washington Park, right on the lakefront. We're really promoting Trail Creek and our stream; it's great salmon fishing, there's the boat races, but there's also just our marina and the lakefront life. It's nice to see the Michigan City residents be very accommodating to people coming from Illinois, South Bend, Indianapolis and in the Region for all these big events that we're having.
CM: It has to be huge from an economic development and tourism standpoint that when these people are visiting Michigan City, the residents are welcoming them in.
Mayor Meer: When we have these large events in our city and tens of thousands of people are coming into Michigan City, that's great because they're utilizing existing businesses, restaurants, hotels and things of that nature. In my opinion the most crucial thing is the exposure that Michigan City and La Porte County get anytime we bring 50,000-80,000 people into our community. There are business men who see your community. That's when you have to show off, because maybe they'll invest or move here or move a branch of their business here. We have Blue Chip Casino and gaming, so what I call the far north end has a lot of improvements and we're continuing to work on that.
CM: What do you see as you evolve this year as some key groups that are really invested right now in helping improve the city overall?
Mayor Meer: We have so many non-for-profits that I would be leery to just go down the list because I would be afraid I'd forget someone. The city itself, some of our departments, are very important. Blue Chip Casino generates a lot of revenues that the city otherwise would not have. You have the Unity Foundation, the Boys & Girls Club and the Salvation Army. The mayor's office just recently had a fundraiser for our food pantry.
CM: As you look ahead for the next six months to a year, what are the things that you see as important challenges that are ahead that you have a plan for, or exciting opportunities that you're looking forward to seeing happen.
Mayor Meer: Well, job creation is always very important. Working with our Michigan City Economic Development Corporation. People have to understand that sometimes these are very confidential conversations with a company coming into our community. They've asked us to keep it confidential because of the competitive nature of things, but it's exciting that I know that there are a couple of big fish out there that we have on the line. The other thing that I want to work on is our overall image of the city. Our demeanor is so important because we have so many people coming into the city and we want everything to look clear. We have an excellent Police Department of about 93 officers strong in Michigan City. There's been a real emphasis of keeping neighborhood crime down. Crime is not unique to any community, but we're trying to really stay on top of that. It's difficult work, but it's necessary to keep our neighborhoods clear and safe. When somebody comes into your community the three things they look at are the demeanor of your city, the school system and crime.
CM: You mention being a political leader in your eighth month. You have a neighbor next door in Blair Milo, who's in her eighth month, often news coverage tends to consolidate around where people don't get along. We like to highlight people who do get along. Tell me about the working relationship with Michigan City and La Porte between you and Blair Milo.
Mayor Meer: Blair Milo and I have a very good working relationship. There are a lot of folks that are driving from La Porte to Michigan City and Michigan City to La Porte. One thing that we've talked about a little bit is an actual bus service between the two cities. We cross paths at various functions because we are both La Porte County. Here's a perfect example of not letting politics get in our way in any way, shape or form. Mayor Milo is a Republican, I'm a Democrat and all that is put aside.
CM: So you view yourself as a city leader, but ultimately, you're a county leader.
Mayor Meer: Absolutely. We're working with our county commissioners and county council folks too, who assist both of our cities. One of the things that does happen is that Michigan City does have approximately $9-11 million injected through the gaming agreement with Blue Chip Casino. We're really blessed right now with that additional money that we can use.
CM: What are some of the unknown gems within Michigan City?
Mayor Meer: I think there are certain areas that are promoted, such as the mall, casino and some of the theatres. If you get off the beaten path in Michigan City you can go out on the creek fishing and catch things in the middle of the winter. For a fisherman, it's a real opportunity to come into our community and try our stream out. Some of our pocket parks and side parks in our neighborhoods and things are nice places to stop.
CM: Tell me a little bit about Michigan City's connect to Northwest Indiana. How do you really see the Region?
Mayor Meer: Growing up in Michigan City and going to Rogers High School, we were in the Duneland Conference, a very tough conference in football and basketball. We have a basketball arena that holds approximately 6,000 and I remember seeing that full during regular season games. I miss that and people ask how that can happen again. I think it starts with getting a winning team to lead to that resurgence. Also, Chicago has an effect on Northwest Indiana. We have a lot of guests come into Valparaiso, Portage and La Porte. We're trying to take advantage of that market as well. There is a lot of opportunity to just go out on trails and enjoy nature in the Michigan City area.
CM: We thank you for coming out here and for getting engaged with LaPorteCountyLife and over the months and years to come we look forward to telling those and a ton of other stories.