GARY — The city is moving forward seeking a developer for the University Park East neighborhood, while hoping it can obtain a large grant to assist rehabilitation of the area.
In the past two years, a group of residents have developed a plan for the neighborhood, which is bordered by Broadway, Ridge Road, Interstate 65 and Interstate 80/94. With the support of a $500,0000 Choice Neighborhood Planning Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, residents in eight working groups with the aid of consultants came together to create the Blueprint for Change.
Thursday evening, a number of residents braved the icy weather to learn about how their work will impact the future of their neighborhood.
Bo Kemp, executive director of the Gary Economic Development Corporation, said the idea behind the effort was to not only create a process to transform the University Park East neighborhood, but to use it as a blueprint to transform other communities throughout the city.
The city later this year plans to seek an implementation grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, depending on its availability under the new administration.
But Kemp said the city wants to implement some programs even without the grant money it might receive. "We think it's important to continue to move forward to transform your neighborhood," he told the group Thursday.
In response to concerns about public safety, the city rolled out coordinated community policing initiatives between the Gary and Indiana University Northwest police departments in August, including the re-estabishment of a city bike patrol. Kemp indicated the efforts were at least partly designed to encourage children to interact with police officers. He added the area already has seen some significant improvements in its crime statistics and has one of the lowest crime rates in the city.
Getting ready for revival
Blight removal and infrastructure improvements also were a top priority for many people who participated in a survey done as part of the planning process.
In September, the city repaved 35th Avenue, from Broadway to Martin Luther King Boulevard, and Georgia Street, from 39th Street to Interstate 80/94. In November, it started the 32nd Avenue Flow Diversion Modification Project that should help with drainage in the area, Kemp said. In the spring the city plans to add LED street lights on Broadway between 25th and 45th avenues, which Kemp said should help to beautify the area as well as aid in public safety.
Some blight removal already has been done by the city with federal money obtained through the Hardest Hit Blight Elimination Program. The blight elimination is designed to help public safety, improve surrounding property values and aid in development.
A market study released last year in conjunction with the plan said there appears to be the potential for mixed-used development, including apartments and restaurant/retail establishments in the University Park East area in the near future. The study’s authors said that to “ensure success, the apartment and retail development should be located at 35th Avenue and Broadway intersection, as close as possible to the IUN (Indiana University Northwest) campus and Ivy Tech facility that is under construction.”
Kemp noted that the city has targeted three areas for development in the area, including the corner of 35th Avenue and Broadway, the Colonial Garden II property across from Ivy Tech Community College, and land around the vacant Benjamin Franklin School site at 600 E. 35th Ave.
The city through its redevelopment commission is currently working on a memorandum of understanding with the school district that could allow it to market the Franklin school site and other vacant property owned by the district. The Colonial Gardens properties were expected to be torn down by now, but demolition was delayed when it was determined Hardest Hit funds could not be used for their removal. Instead the city is working with HUD to find other funds to demolish the property.
The city also has put out requests for proposals for a "master developer" who would work with the city in developing such properties. Kemp said the bids are due by next Friday. The city earlier entered into an agreement with a group known as MaiaCo LLC to help acquire land that can be used for such development.
Other plans for the area include the opening of a Community HealthNet Health Center at 1500-1535 East 35th Ave., across from Ivy Tech in 2018, and launch of the Broadway Metro Express service in the summer.