Gary is expected to be the Obama administration's "national model" for urban revitalization, according to U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has established a "Gary Project" that will seek to address issues of urban decay and foster economic development in the city, including demolition of vacant properties, according to Bayh, D-Ind.
Bayh said he was notified Wednesday by Ron Sims, deputy secretary of HUD, that the agency is assembling "what they are calling the Gary Project.
"He told me that by mid-September, they will have assembled a team of national experts" to lead the project, Bayh said.
"(HUD officials) would like to make this a national example of what can be done when bringing all parties together," Bayh said. "They feel if they can get Gary on the right track, they can use this plan to do it elsewhere in the country."
On June 30, Bayh said he asked Congress for $24.7 million in federal stimulus funds to demolish 1,124 abandoned structures throughout Gary.
"It's the right thing to do," Bayh said that day after a walking tour of Gary's Emerson neighborhood, where he observed boarded-up and fire-scorched houses, overgrown yards, sagging roofs, collapsed floors and a caved-in sidewalk and street, all within three blocks. Bayh was accompanied on his walk by Sims, Gary Mayor Rudy Clay and several city and Lake County officials.
On Wednesday, meeting at the invitation of The Times, Bayh could not confirm the amount of support the Gary Project will receive, but he said he and Sims agreed the $24.7 million initially proposed likely would not be enough to remedy Gary's needs.
Bayh spoke with Clay by phone Wednesday afternoon to share the news that the federal government will focus resources on Gary's revitalization.
When The Times reached Clay, he said he couldn't comment on the news, citing a "lack of available details," but said he is glad Bayh has taken an interest in spurring development in the city.
"I have to applaud Senator Bayh because he understands clearly that the state of Indiana cannot be what it ought to be unless Gary is where it ought to be," Clay said. "I give him a standing ovation for understanding that."
A HUD spokesman in Washington when reached late Wednesday afternoon didn't have any specific information on the announcement.
Gary was competing with other cities for a total of $2 billion in neighborhood-stabilization funds set aside by President Barack Obama and Congress.
The funds are expected to help state and local governments and nonprofit developers acquire land and property, demolish or rehabilitate abandoned properties or offer down payment and closing-cost assistance to low- and middle-income home buyers, according to HUD's Web site. HUD said grantees also could create land banks to assemble, temporarily manage and dispose of foreclosed homes.
The deadline for applications was July 17.
After his walk around with Sims in June, Bayh told city leaders, "When I was talking to business leaders outside of Gary, they said Gary is one of the top things that needs to be dealt with. There is now recognition that we are all in this together.
"I'm convinced the comeback for Gary and Northwest Indiana starts with demolishing these properties and making the land suitable for investment, for job creation. At least the deterioration will be stopped, (and) then we can start to build on that combination," he said.
Times Managing Editor Paul Mullaney contributed to this report.