GARY | Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson packed the house at the Gary Chamber of Commerce meeting Monday at Majestic Star Casino, offering updated information about the city’s economic development initiatives.

The mayor asked to address the chamber after last month’s blistering talk about Gary and its future by economist Morton Marcus. Her talk focused on putting the city’s efforts in perspective.

Since taking office in January 2012, Freeman-Wilson said her administration focused on how to make the process of economic development in the city more streamlined and user-friendly.

For example, all the city departments dealing with economic development are now part of the Department of Commerce. These include the staffs of the building, redevelopment, community development, planning and green urbanism divisions.

“We were thinking that any new or growth project would start with the Department of Commerce of the economic development commission (led by Don Babcock of NIPSCO,” Freeman-Wilson said.

That approach has been successful with bringing Superior Trust to Gary and “is working for Kaplan Trucking,” she said. Interfacing with state agencies to offer economic development incentives also has been successful, the mayor said.

Revenue is critical for the city, Freeman-Wilson said, and one plan that is both incentive and a revenue-producer is the 10-year reverse tax abatement. When a municipality offers a tax abatement to a business, the company pays no property taxes the first year and then an increased amount over the next nine years until the 10th year when 100 percent of property taxes are paid.

The reverse tax abatement would have the business seeing the majority of the tax abatement at the end of the 10-year period, the mayor said.

“Has this been successful? Yes. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely,” Freeman-Wilson said.

The Gary Northside Redevelopment Plan dovetails with the city’s economic development efforts, the mayor said. Stretching from the Aetna neighborhood to the lakefront and from Horace Mann to Emerson, the plan includes a light industrial area on the east end of Melton Road. The plan has been financed by a planning grant from the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission and the Legacy Foundation’s Neighborhood Spotlight program, she said. The Sheraton Hotel demolition also is a part of this redevelopment plan.

“In six to eight months, the Sheraton will no longer exist,” Freeman-Wilson said.

Other development along the 500 block of Broadway will include the 504 Broadway building. The mayor said the 600 block of Broadway's “eyesores are being demolished.”

Additional highlights of the city’s economic development include the following:

• Stabilizing the east and west sides of Glen Park with the University Park development in partnership with Indiana University Northwest to include developing a mixed use site between 35th and Ridge Road;

• Dealing with the city’s image, which Freeman-Wilson said “has had blemishes and has been happening since the 1940s and 1950 s… by telling our story to as many publications as possible”;

• Improving education in public schools;

• Crime initiatives: “There are a handful of folks committing these crimes. We have some alternatives for you,” she said. “There are two paths. One is to become law-abiding citizens and we will get you any help you need. If you choose not to avail yourself of that opportunity, we will put you at the front of the line to go to jail.”

• Infrastructure – Major wastewater work and repaving around the city have been made possible through partnerships, she said.

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