Many region residents who attended Tuesday's City of Promise event shared their experiences and impressions of Gary and their recommendations for improving it:
For Gary resident Bernadine Grayer, her vision of an improved Gary starts with tearing down the abandoned buildings around the city and shining light on the streets by ensuring all of the street lights are functioning. "It will make the city look much better," she said. New homes, parks, ball fields and beautification efforts are an important part of the city's revitalization, but it starts with clearing the eyesores. "As long as the abandoned homes are gone, that's the most important thing," Grayer said.
A 1991 Roosevelt High School graduate, Indianapolis resident Marc Brooks grew up in Gary, but he has been away for 14 years. The city needs to be cleaned up and needs to be safer, he said. It also lacks job opportunities, aside from working at the mill or the gambling boats, he said. "The city needs more jobs here," Brooks said.
Gary resident Richard Cannon said there are two steps to get Gary on the path of revitalization: cleaning up the city and increasing public safety. "If we get those down, the other things will fall in place," he said. Cannon, who graduated from the city's Froebel High School in 1943, is a lifelong Gary resident.
Steven Dorsey, who works in Gary but lives in Indianapolis, said the biggest issues facing Gary are the glut of abandoned buildings and lack of employment opportunities. The city should focus on developing empty lots and creating a home-buying program that allows people to buy abandoned homes for $1. It would usher in a change of perspective for Gary.
To move forward, Gary needs to take advantage of its location and draw new development and residents while preserving some of its historic housing stock, said Jonathyn Truax, who lives outside Detroit but works in Gary. Truax said the city should refurbish its business corridor and include housing. But the first step is to get Gary residents on board with a revitalization plan. "It's energizing the community, to begin," he said. "I hope (Mayor-elect Karen Freeman-Wilson) can do that."
June Marie Brandon, of Gary, said she went to high school with Freeman-Wilson and remembers her being a high achiever. "I think the mayor has a vision," Brandon said. "I think she's going to do very well." New businesses would bring much-needed improvement to the cityscape. "We've been down too long," Brandon said. "It's time for us to come out ahead."
Former teacher Janice Hollis, a lifelong Gary resident, said economic development is the top issue in Gary. The city needs to attract more businesses, which would help raise residents' morale and pride in the city. Hollis, who works in real estate, said Gary should use its attributes to its benefit. "Gary has a great location, great resources, and I'd like to see us take advantage of that," Hollis said.
Odis Richardson, a retired teacher from West Side High School in Gary, said the incoming mayor has to put a priority on improving conditions for senior citizens since there are a large number living in the city. "Right now, my main concern is for seniors that there would be an ongoing developed program that would attend to the needs and concerns of (them)," Richardson said. He said there's a tremendous amount of positive momentum in the city, and his hope is that it can learn from examples shown in other cities to help improve economic and social conditions.
Tiffani Davis said she has lived in Northwest Indiana for about five years, and finds that one of Gary's greatest assets is the loyalty people have to the city. Her hope is that the loyalty will translate into a commitment to turnaround schools, government and cleaning up the city's image. "I'm hoping that with a new leader that they can have a new vision and a fresh perspective," said Davis, of Merrillville.
Tapping into the experience and support of religious institutions within the city of Gary could yield significant benefits for incoming leaders, Highland resident Marcus Arnold said. Arnold said churches are a force that could be strong if mobilized to address problems in the community.
The Rev. Anthony Tiller, of Country Club Hills, Ill., said he has colleagues who live and work in the area and described a sense of exhilaration hearing plans about what can be done in Gary. He said he's also looking forward to developing partnerships across the state line to help improve conditions in the city. As long as Freeman-Wilson has the "help and participation of a new team coming together, it can be accomplished."
For Kenneth White, of Merrillville, an all-hands-on-deck approach is going to be needed in Gary. He said leaders are going to have to "bring in any and all talent simultaneously to utilize the physical assets in Gary as well as the human assets." But in order to convince people to support new developments in the city, people have to convinced it is in their best interest and benefits the city.
Making Gary a better place to live starts with realistic assessments of current conditions, good strategic planning and strong plan implementation, said the Rev. Jeff Thames. Thames, a Gary resident, said he returned to area in September as a religious calling and finds it relieving that there are groups working together on solutions to problems in the city including disparities in education.