Gary to revitalize north side neighborhoods

2013-07-20T17:45:00Z 2013-07-22T14:51:06Z Gary to revitalize north side neighborhoodsJoseph S. Pete joseph.pete@nwi.com, (219) 933-3316 nwitimes.com

Gary is launching a plan to redevelop north side neighborhoods, including tearing down a long-vacant downtown hotel.

Leaders from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Transportation joined Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson on Friday to announce a new revitalization project for the city's north side. The city will look at sparking new life in the Aetna, Miller, downtown/Emerson and Ambridge-Horace Mann neighborhoods.

The city is targeting those neighborhoods for redevelopment projects, such as adding more green space, because they either need stabilization or have strong foundations to build on, Freeman-Wilson said. Downtown has the anchors of City Hall and the U.S. Steel Yard baseball stadium, and Ambridge-Horace Mann has the Methodist Hospitals Northlake Campus.

Miller has potential for more development near the South Shore Line because of its proximity to the lakefront, and Aetna once had a vibrant commercial corridor that could be restored, she said.

A $350,000 grant for a revolving fund to clear brownfields will kick-start the ambitious project, said Susan Hedman, regional administrator for the EPA.

That grant likely will be a key piece of funding for the upcoming demolition of the 14-story former Sheraton hotel, which has sat empty since 1985, Freeman-Wilson said.

Gary already has lined up $1 million in funds for the project. The city will find out if that will be enough to cover the expense when the demolition goes out to bid sometime in the next month.

Workers are expected to raze the blighted high-rise building, which was first built as a Holiday Inn in 1968 but has sat empty for most of its existence, by December or sometime early next year, Freeman-Wilson said.

The city also will work with private foundations and the three federal agencies, which have teamed up on a Partnership for Sustainable Communities initiative that aims to build strong regional economies, improve housing and transportation options and protect the environment.

Gary could get federal funding or technical assistance for a variety of projects that could include razing abandoned homes and letting the properties revert to nature, offering private developers tax credits to rehabilitate the Mahencia Apartments and other historical buildings, and encouraging more retail in the Aetna neighborhood. The city could work with HUD to build infill housing on empty lots, or even market-rate homes, Freeman-Wilson said.

The city and the U.S. Department of Transportation could look at the possibility of a parking garage near the downtown transportation center, or a parking garage with housing attached to it in the Lake Street area of the Miller neighborhood, Freeman-Wilson said.

"A lot of people argue that people would jump at the opportunity to live on the lake," she said.

Gary could look at areas plagued by high rates of vacancy, such as some parts of Aetna, tear down properties and return the land to green space, Freeman-Wilson said.

City and federal officials have formed working groups that will identify programs, resources and strategies for redevelopment. They could start to present proposals or recommendations within the next six months.

"We're working together to plan a collective vision to move the city forward," Freeman-Wilson said. "Some people think that things are not happening, but nothing could be further from the truth. We're taking the time to plan so we can create a more sustainable Gary."

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