Imagine a new bank branch and apartments in a downtown Gary high-rise, or a row of new restaurants outside Indiana University Northwest.
Picture students strolling off campus past a $55 million performing arts center to a Starbucks, Chipotle Mexican Grill and other new businesses along a revamped, flag-lined Broadway.
Gary city officials and developers asked local bankers to share their vision for redevelopment at a community development forum at the former Gary State Bank building, where a $30 million rehabilitation is planned. Local developer Gateway Partners wants to lure a retail bank back to the 10-story building at the intersection of Broadway and W. 5th Avenue, which Chase left in 2008.
Plans call for a bank branch and other retailers on the first floor, renovated offices on the second through fourth floors and 60 one- and two-bedroom apartments on the top six floors. Three vacant buildings south of the tower would be razed to make way for a drive-through teller window, a parking lot and possibly a small park.
Fagen Pharmacy would remain at the 107-year-old bank tower, which developer Vance Kenney said is currently about 80 percent vacant.
"We're asking you to believe in Gary and invest in Gary," developer Jonathan Anderson said. "People drive through Gary and see the (long-abandoned) Gary Methodist Church and think that's Gary. You've got to drive down more than one road. There's building construction, road construction and kids walking down the street."
Mayor Karen Wilson-Freeman and city development officials encouraged bankers from more than a dozen financial institutions to invest in or lend money for the redevelopment of the former Gary State Bank building downtown, the city's dollar home program in the University Park neighborhood and an effort to create a university village-type atmosphere around the IUN and Ivy Tech campuses. The city and developers are seeking tax credits for the projects and requested the support of the local financial community.
City officials touted a variety of economic development projects that include a proposed lodge and resort at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Gary that would include 150 to 250 hotel rooms, an upscale restaurant and a viewing tower where visitors could take in a panoramic view of the Chicago skyline.
An unnamed developer also is interested in a constructing a speculative building for light manufacturing in a potential business park on a 63-acre site on Dunes Highway, said Gary Economic Development Corp. deputy director Eric Reaves.
Reaves also is trying to lure more development around the Fresh Country Market grocery store at the Interstate 80/94 interchange at Grant Street, including a hotel, a tech building, an International House of Pancakes, a casual dining restaurant and a fast food chain. That redevelopment could bring an estimated 200 to 250 jobs to the city, Reaves said.
"I tell businesses that 175,000 cars a day pass by, and that means that have 175,000 chances to get a customer," he said.
Gary has big plans for the University Park area, a 7.5-mile district between Interstate 80/94 to the north, Ridge Road to the south, Interstate 65 to the west and Grant Street to the east. The city expects IUN and Ivy Tech to build a new performing arts center, and is pursing a trauma center, in-fill housing and mixed-use buildings.
The city has demolished more than 70 properties in the neighborhood to make way for new development and has talked to IUN about moving its bookstore and cafeteria off-campus to get more foot traffic along Broadway.
Reaves said he has been trying to attract a Starbucks, a Chipotle, a Five Guys Burgers and Fries, and a Kinko's FedEx Office. He's touted the 10,000 students who attend IUN and Ivy Tech while trying to lure the types of businesses that cluster around many college campuses.
"Those are doable things," he said. "We're focusing on attainable goals. We're not saying let's get a five-star restaurant there because that's not doable."