MUNSTER — The first tenants have started to move into Maple Leaf Crossing, the new development in Munster that will feature cutting-edge shipping container architecture, a School of Rock, a Buffalouie’s and other new businesses.

Construction is largely complete on the two biggest buildings at the mixed-use development on Calumet Avenue just north of 45th Avenue: a four-story office building and a 105-room, four-story Hyatt Place. 

Northwest Indiana’s first Hyatt Place is slated to open in March. The high-end hotel will feature a 3,500-square-foot conference room, a bar and a Topgolf simulator.

Project developer Jay Lieser of 1st Metropolitan Builders still plans to build five more buildings and then bring in 10 to 15 shipping containers that will be home to smaller tenants like coffee shops, wine bars, boutiques and stationery shops.

Ground just broke on Karma Cigar Bar’s new Karma Bistro and Cigar Lounge, a three-story, 8,300-square-foot gastropub, wine bar, cigar lounge and rooftop bar with a retractable roof.

“We had mild weather in December and January so we were able to break ground last week and we’ll be back on it next week,” Lieser said. “Karma will go vertical this year and should be done from the end of the year. It’s right across from the Hyatt Place.”

The developer also staked one of two identical retail buildings that will bookend the site on the 9400 block of Calumet Avenue. It plans to break ground this month on a 7,500-square-foot retail building that will be home to multiple tenants, such as a School of Rock and physical therapist. Construction on the second retail building should start in March or April.

1st Metropolitan Builders, which has built high-end homes across Northwest Indiana, is creating a walkable campus with two restaurants, shops and professional offices. It’s estimated to be at least a $50 million investment.

The developer will build the retail buildings on spec, leasing the space out as it’s constructed. It’s looking for a restaurant to build a 5,000-square-foot building with a back patio for 50 or 60 diners on an outlet on Calumet Avenue.

“We’re waiting for the right restauranteur to take the center building,” Lieser said. “We’re looking for an owner-operator. We’re open to someone’s vision of what they want to put there. I don’t think we need another steakhouse, so I’m open to someone’s concept.”

A Buffalo native who brought authentic Buffalo wings to his college town of Bloomington, he owns Buffalouie’s in the historic Gables building just off the Indiana University campus and is in the process of opening a second Buffalouie’s location on Main Street in Carmel with the help of IU basketball players, including point guard, fan favorite and former NBA player Yogi Ferrell. He plans to build another Buffalouie’s in Maple Leaf Crossing after the Carmel location opens in April.

“Once that’s open in the spring, we’ll take my crew from there and do one in Munster,” he said.

He expects it will become a popular hangout for nostalgic IU alumni, including for basketball and football games.

In a nod to IU, the development features Indiana limestone from the quarries in south-central Indiana.

Tenants have started to move into the 16-unit professional office building, which will be home to doctors, lawyers and financial planners. It’s nearly fully leased with tenants like the Center for Digestive Health, a men’s spa and a vision boutique.

Smith Sersic, GRI Investments and Dr. Mary Tilak and Associates just opened. Tilak, who also has an office in Schererville, moved her longtime home base from Highland to the new building in Munster, earning a beautification award from the Munster Chamber of Commerce.

“I started practicing in 2001 at the Jones Clinic. It was right after 9/11. I remember holding my five-month-old son in London trying to transit to the United States trying to start my job in the United States and they blocked us. So my practice started at a time of chaos,” she said. “I came and started the practice and here we are 23 years later. Munster has been my home away from home. I was born and raised in India, did my postgraduate training in internal medicine at the University of Illinois-Chicago, took my first job here and haven’t moved ever since. This community has supported me and seen the purpose of this whole practice model, the transformation and value we’ve tried to create with healthcare. They’ve been my backbone.”

She’s an internist who was previously located in a home office at 45th Street and Indianapolis Boulevard. 

“We grew. We needed to make a bigger impact,” she said. “Just me as a physician can only see 2,000 patients. I wanted to bring my principles and purpose and really create value in healthcare. I’ve brought in 10 different providers: five physicians and five nurse practitioners. We provide primary care, geriatric medicine, mental health, and obesity medicine all under the same facility.”

There’s just 1,500 square feet available on the second floor and 1,800 square feet on the first floor of the professional building at Maple Leaf Crossing.

The project will be finished with shipping container architecture similar to those in developments in Toronto, Tampa, Las Vegas, Tucson and Chicago. The 320-square-foot containers allow for a more high-density development with more tenants and are more affordable for small businesses than traditional storefronts.

“The shipping containers will come after everything’s done,” Lieser said. “The shipping container architecture needs all the businesses to help generate traffic for them. They will feed off of what we have standing. We call them boutique shops.”

Interest has exceeded demand for the containers.

“We’re oversubscribed,” he said. “We have a lot of interest. But I haven’t laid them out yet. I need all the heavy construction out and then we’ll put them in a year from now. We’ll build them off-site and then bring them over with a flatbed and place them with a crane. Then the plumbing is connected and everything is put in place.”

Tenants should include hair salons, massage therapists and other service businesses. It can be leased out for $15 a square foot.

“That’s the last to go down a year from now,” he said. “They should be able to capitalize off of the density of the development and all the foot traffic we’ll get.” 

Munster Clerk-Treasurer Wendy Mis said Maple Leaf Crossing would be a significant addition to the town.

“We’re thrilled to have this development here. We’re pleased with Jay and his vision,” she said. “The quality of enterprises that he brought in exceeded our expectations. It’s a great use considering what this land was. Considering where it came from and what he turned it into, we’re thrilled. It’s higher quality and will attract more people to this area. We’re really pleased with what he’s done.”