March 1, 2021 • Courtesy of the Post-Tribune
Written by Carole Carlson
Merrillville’s dazzling $22.7 million Dean and Barbara White Community Center opened Monday with prospective patrons ogling the 35-foot climbing wall, adjacent fitness center and a glistening new gymnasium and indoor track.
The 94,000-square-foot building anchors 6600 Broadway, once the site of the Y & W-Drive-In and blockbuster movies.
Diane Wilson, of Merrillville, liked the sequel.
“It is gorgeous. It has everything you need, it’s hard to express how beautiful it is,” said Wilson who toured the center with her sisters, Amelia Beene, of Hobart, and Carolyn Stone, of Gary.
Wilson said she’s been taking senior aerobics at the town’s Pruzin Center, its former community center.
Wilson and Beene especially liked the padded indoor track above the gymnasium.
Parks director Jan Orlich said tours will also be offered from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, as the center settles into its new weekday hours, and 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays.
Town leaders helped close a funding gap by offering naming rights to businesses on the center’s different amenities.
The Dean and Barbara White Foundation provided the biggest boost with a $10 million gift. The fitness center bears the name of Methodist Hospitals. Other backers include Centier Bank, Bosak Auto Group, NIPSCO, Mike Anderson Chevrolet, Holladay Properties, Meyers-Glaros Insurance and the Northwestern Indiana Building Trades Council.
The late Dean White’s investments helped put Merrillville on the map in 1969 when he opened the now-demolished Radisson hotel and Holiday Star theater complex and the Twin Towers office buildings at Interstate 65 and U.S. 30.
The property is now vacant and up for sale.
Touring the center with his wife, Dorothy, Lester Lewis said he met White while delivering mail to the Twin Towers as part of his postal route.
Lewis, of Merrillville, said White later hired him as a bartender at his Radisson complex.
The couple said they watched the community center construction nearly every day.
“This is new state-of-the-art exercise equipment,” said Lewis as he eyed the fitness center.
Maria Quiroga, of Merrillville, went away impressed.
“I’m so happy there’s a nice facility in Merrillville for everyone to stay healthy,” she said.
Town Councilman Donald Spann, D-1st, said he hasn’t seen the center for several months. “It’s huge. It’s a beautiful facility. Merrillville needed something like this since the Radisson was torn down.”
On the center’s north side is an event center that showed time lapse images of the center’s construction. It can hold one large banquet-type event or three smaller ones. Catering services with alcohol are available or parties can provide their own food.
Adult fitness programs include balance ball, yoga, cardio training, dance and self-defense.
There will be adult education classes in art, cooking, photography, CPR, and Spanish along with senior luncheons.
There are also youth fitness programs in karate, gymnastics, dance, Zumba and preschool programs.
Free community programs include senior aerobics, enhanced fitness, nutrition, bicycle club, knitting and cards.
The gym offers leagues in basketball, volleyball, pickleball, boccie ball and table tennis.
Costs vary, depending on the program. Merrillville residents, ages 18-55, can join the fitness center for $20 a month. The cost for senior citizens and veterans is $10.
For more information, see merrillvilleparks.com.