New owner plans major renovation at downtown Gary tower

2014-03-07T05:30:00Z 2014-03-07T19:48:04Z New owner plans major renovation at downtown Gary towerJoseph S. Pete joseph.pete@nwi.com, (219) 933-3316 nwitimes.com

GARY | A new owner is planning a $2.5 million renovation to a century-old tower to bring a bank back to downtown Gary for the first time in six years.

Hobart-based developer Gateway Partners LLC has bought the 10-story Gary State Bank building for an undisclosed sum. The 150,000-square-foot building and its attached 350-space parking garage at 5th Avenue and Broadway is assessed for tax purposes at more than $1.29 million, according to the Lake County Assessor's Office. It's the second tallest building in the city after Gary Manor.

Gateway managing partner Vance Kenney hopes to rehabilitate the historic tower, which is about as old as the city itself, though the building didn't reach 10 stories high until the 1920s. Plans call for tearing down three adjoining buildings to the south to make room for a two-lane bank drive-thru, an off-street parking lot and park-like green space.

A Northwest Indiana community bank has agreed to move into the first floor, and will get naming rights for the building. Chase Bank had most recently occupied the stately interior, which features wainscoting and white marble pillars, but left in 2008.

"If you're a lover of old historic buildings, this has everything," Kenney said. "It's got all of the stonework. The exterior is a very solid structure. It's ornate in a way that banks just aren't any more. There marble, terrazzo, wainscoting and other features that you couldn't buy today even on your best day. It's a very, very nice historic piece of property that just needs some attention."

The bank building long served steelworkers at the nearby U.S. Steel Gary Works, but was not a viable location because it lacked a drive-through and other amenities common at modern banks, Kenney said.

About five tenants currently occupy the 10-story building, which is about 80 percent vacant. Fagen Pharmacy, which is on the first floor, has been planning for months to move to a strip mall at Broadway and 13th Street.

Kenney hopes extensive building improvements will persuade Fagen to stay or come back after a few months, especially since senior citizens at the nearby Genesis Towers rely on the pharmacy as a shop they can walk to.

He and his partners, Bill Samples in Nashville and Jon Anderson in Indianapolis, plan to do two phases of renovations this year. They are asking the city to create a tax-increment financing district encompassing only the building that would capture the building's property taxes, which they would put toward building improvements.

The goal is to sell about $2.875 million in bonds in April, and begin a six-month $2.5 million construction project that includes the demolition, a modernization of the bank interior, common area upgrades, and refurbished facades and windows. The tower's mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems also will be upgraded. About $375,000 would go toward soft costs and professional fees associated with the bond sale.

Later in the year, Kenney plans to sign new a new tenant or tenants, and use their commitments to secure financing for a second round of renovations. He said he could not detail those plans at this time.

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