GARY — The Indiana National Guard is expected to sweep through one of the city's neighborhoods and take down nearly two dozen abandoned buildings.
City officials are ready to aid in the effort and are preparing for even more demolition work in the coming months.
The National Guard is anticipated to be in the city's 4th District next month on a mission to knock down abandoned homes between 15th and 19th avenues and Broadway and Virginia Street.
Maj. Benjamin T. Tooley, a spokesman for the Indiana National Guard, said in a statement Friday that "Gary has requested Indiana National Guard engineers to assist local authorities with a demolition project to remove abandoned structures the Gary police believe contribute to illegal drug activity. We are currently reviewing availability of personnel and resources to facilitate this request."
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson estimated that more than 20 structures could be demolished during the three-week period the National Guard is expected to be in the area. The City Council last week approved establishing a fund that will be used to help in the removal of the debris from the structures that are demolished.
Cedric Kuykendall, the city's demolition coordinator, said the National Guard is anticipated to demolish 22 properties in September, including the remains of a burned out former VFW post.
The upcoming demolition work by the National Guard is one of several fronts in which thousands of abandoned properties in the city are being addressed.
Volunteering effort grows
Next year, a volunteer group effort led by Rieth-Riley Construction Co. is expected to continue its efforts to remove some of the city's abandoned structures. Freeman-Wilson said the coalition is expected to remove 100 structures next year.
Kuykendall said the structures are expected to be removed during a one-week period between January and March. Rieth-Riley hopes to have several other contractors join the effort, he said.
Kuykendall said the abandoned residential properties being targeted will be the "worst of the worst," such as burned-out structures. He said the properties being targeted will be in the Aetna, Marshalltown, Tarrytown, Black Oak and Colonial Gardens areas, between 49th and 50th avenues and Tennessee and Kentucky streets.
The contractors knocked down four properties in the Miller area in 2016 and another nine in the Aetna section earlier this year, he said.
Hundreds of buildings knocked down by city
The largest number of structures, however, have been taken down through contractors hired by the city's Redevelopment Commission. Using more than $3 million in federal Hardest Hit Blight Elimination money distributed by the state, the contractors hired by the city have torn down 353 structures, with 12 more scheduled for demolition this month.
The commission has nearly $7.5 million more in such funding that it can use for further demolition. All told, Joe Van Dyk, executive director of the city's planning and development department, said he hopes nearly 1,000 structures will be torn down with the use of the funds.
The next major project being undertaken is the demolition of 50 vacant homes that were once part of the Colonial Gardens II housing project, located across from Ivy Tech Community College in the area of 35th Avenue and Tennessee Street.
Currently, Calumet Township is funding the ongoing demolition of its former township building south of Gary City Hall. Kuykendall anticipates the demolition of that large structure should be complete within two to three weeks.
Van Dyk said the commission recently had razed a large former church on Fifth Avenue, just east of the U.S. Steel Yard. It is adjacent to a warehouse undergoing rehabilitation to serve as a deconstruction warehouse for the Steel City Salvage program, a partnership between the city, the Delta Institute and the Knight Foundation.