DOUG ROSS: Mayor's vision doesn't stop at city limits

2014-04-04T00:00:00Z DOUG ROSS: Mayor's vision doesn't stop at city limitsBy Doug Ross doug.ross@nwi.com, (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 nwitimes.com

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson has a lot of challenges within her city. But her vision doesn't stop at the city limits.

Freeman-Wilson cast a key vote in support of the South Shore extension to Dyer when she announced Monday she would ask the City Council to approve 20 percent of the city's county economic development income tax revenue, starting in 2016, toward the commuter rail expansion.

The mayor said the city would give $100,000 toward the project in 2015.

"We have to take a regional approach" to economic development, she said Thursday.

She likewise cast a key vote in favor of the Illiana Expressway when it came before the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission. Freeman-Wilson's support of the proposed highway was crucial.

So why support a highway that was several miles south of her city? Because she knows what buoys one part of the county can help everyone else.

In fact, Freeman-Wilson said she has heard from warehousing brokers who are interested in Gary locations when the Illiana opens, bringing congestion relief to the Borman Expressway.

I've made the point before that relieving Borman congestion will encourage businesses to consider northern Lake County locations. It's good to hear proof that developers think so, too.

By approving the Illiana, by supporting the South Shore extension, Freeman-Wilson is bringing indirect, and perhaps some direct, benefits to her constituents.

She's also helping the entire region.

That's the view more people in Northwest Indiana should embrace.

Freeman-Wilson knows the majority of employees at U.S. Steel's Gary Works live outside the city. But that doesn't discourage her from caring about those workers and the city streets they use.

Her attitude should inspire others to think big — meaning outside their own parochial boundaries — as well.

Freeman-Wilson is making some headway on major challenges facing the city.

There's asbestos remediation going on at the former Sheraton Hotel, which has been vacant almost 20 years. The asbestos needs to be dealt with so the building can be razed by October or November, she said.

Like it or not, that building next to City Hall is a symbol of Gary's troubles. It's an eyesore easily visible from vehicles zipping through the city on the Indiana Toll Road.

"I see a building I can see through, and that's not a good sign," she said.

About one-quarter of city's housing stock is abandoned, and Freeman-Wilson hopes to use state and federal help in knocking down about one-quarter of those.

Wouldn't it be good if Gary had partners in the region helping with this, too? That would require the same regional vision Freeman-Wilson has shown.

Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or Doug.Ross@nwi.com. Follow him at www.facebook.com/doug.ross1 and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinions are the writer's.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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