The Star Plaza Theatre will soon see its last encore.
After a short-lived reprieve from the wrecking ball following an outcry from patrons and some of the acts that have performed there, the iconic Merrillville theater will be demolished along with the Twin Towers office complex to make way for an expanded redevelopment at the intersection of Interstate 65 and U.S. 30 in Merrillville, according to property owner White Lodging.
White Lodging announced Friday afternoon that redevelopment plans for the Star Plaza property, including the Radisson Hotel that is almost completely demolished already, have expanded to include all 30 acres at the intersection.
The company originally announced plans to raze the hotel and theater in August 2016.
Built in 1969, the Radisson Hotel, including the ballrooms and restaurants it encompassed, is expected to be demolished within a couple of months, officials said. That project started in April.
The hotel, its restaurants, the adjacent Holiday Star Theatre (later renamed the Star Plaza Theatre) and various colleges and businesses helped stimulate the local economy and were instrumental in transforming the area around it into a retail and hospitality corridor for half a century.
Merrillville-based White Lodging has not indicated what will go on the site, other than a new, more upscale hotel. The hotel, which will have 215 rooms and 12,000 square feet of meeting space, is expected to open in late 2018, according to White Lodging.
Deno Yiankes, president and CEO, investments and development, at White Lodging, said the company's priority is the new hotel, with an overall phased development that would honor the legacy of the late Dean White, who developed the Holiday Inn at Star Plaza at the intersection almost 50 years ago, and benefit the community for decades to come.
He said it has become clear that a "clean slate" would be needed to proceed with the new project, which is why the theater and towers will be razed.
"As we think about the end goal of creating a development with a unique sense of place that will enhance the local community for decades to come, it became clear through a collaborative effort with our development and land planning team that leaving the theater and office complex would have, in many ways, limited the full potential of the redevelopment," Yiankes said.
"While it will require some patience, we have no doubt this clean-slate approach will allow us to create a destination that will have an everlasting impact on Northwest Indiana as Dean White's original development provided for nearly 50 years," Yiankes added.
He said construction of the first phase of the new development will likely begin in the summer of 2018. Speros Batistatos, CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, said he met earlier in the week with Yiankes, who explained to him planners felt they couldn't do something completely new and fresh if they had to work around really big things, such as the towers and theater. He said he did not know the plans for the site.
White Lodging was founded by Bruce White, son of Dean White.
The 3,400-seat Star Plaza Theatre was opened in 1979 and was a stop for many A-list performers such as James Taylor, the Oak Ridge Boys and Roy Clark through the years, some of whom returned numerous times.
Shows will continue through December, with a grand finale event headlined by the Oak Ridge Boys, the only act to play at the theater every year since its opening, according to White Lodging.
Tenants of the office tower will finish their remaining leases, with the building expected to be fully vacated by summer of 2018.
Karen Caffarini is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.