New growth sprouts from NWI's dead past

2014-03-16T00:00:00Z 2014-03-16T01:04:14Z New growth sprouts from NWI's dead pastBy Bill Dolan, (219) 662-5328
March 16, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Hammond's Edward C. Minas, Gary's Lighthouse Restaurant and East Chicago's Busy Corner Drugs Store were part of formerly bustling Northwest Indiana downtowns.

John Fritz, a retired steelworker born in Gary, recalled, "U.S. Steel employed 17,000 on its east side and another 10,000 on its west side then. Each open hearth had 13 furnaces and  would employ 1,500 people on all the shift turns.

"Thursday night was your shopping night. You could walk anywhere from 5th Avenue to 8th Avenue and it was a mass of people there. You had three or four theaters, which were pretty crowded on Sundays. I would see Gene Autry and Buck Rogers movies."

Most of those jobs, theaters and crowds have taken the exits.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman Wilson recently said there are as many as 10,000 abandoned homes in Gary, one in four of the city's housing stock.

But there are stirrings of renewal.

This summer, volunteers from across the country will bring hammers, paint rollers and hand saws to a Gary neighborhood where they will renovate abandoned homes and build new ones on vacant lots as city officials partner with The Fuller Center for Housing, a Georgia-based nonprofit.

The Obama administration recently announced Gary will take part in the Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative. A team of experts will work with local leaders on several initiatives, including the Northside Redevelopment Project in the Aetna, Miller, downtown/Emerson and Ambridge-Horace Mann neighborhoods.

Gary city officials are preparing to demolish the 14-story former Sheraton hotel, which has sat empty since 1985, planning the University Park project and preparing retail development around Indiana University Northwest.

Hammond city officials have rebuilt more than half of that city's streets with casino money that also has pumped $2.5 million every year into a program intended to attract and retain residents by offering four years of college tuition for the children of Hammond homeowners.

The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority will contribute $200,000 to Hammond for a $1 million demolition of the now-vacant Amoco Oil Co. research and development laboratory to make way for $18 million in housing and Calumet College dorm development.

The RDA also has approved $17 million for the Waterfront Revitalization Initiative in East Chicago to improve Jeorse Park Beach and the East Chicago Marina, street and overpass work and demolition of vacant properties. East Chicago already has invested more than $20 million in the North Harbor community.

And redevelopment isn't confined to Lake's urban core.

Munster is celebrating new construction at Community Hospital, Homewood Suites Hotel and Noodles and Meatheads Restaurants at its Lake Business Center; Land O’ Frost corporate headquarters at Hagberg Drive and American Machine Works on Superior Avenue.

Crown Point Mayor David Uran noted the recent opening of a Family Express service station on the site of a former factory at Indiana Avenue and North Street and anticipates new residential development across the street.

Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas points to Pratt Industries' construction of a $260 million, 250,000-square foot paper recycling plant that will create 137 new jobs by 2018. The AM Stabilizers Corp. has purchased and renovated the former Indiana Beverage Building on Silhavy Road. Indiana Beverage moved to a larger 250,000-square-foot space on Ind. 49 and invested $15 million in it.

Highland Volkswagen recently opened at 9601 Indianapolis Blvd. in Highland, the site of the old Team Toyota dealership. Also opening were Culver’s Restaurant and the Strack & Van Til headquarters on 45th Street.

Griffith has been making downtown improvements to help existing businesses and attract new ones, in recent years including: reconstruction of Broad Street, replacing the storm and sanitary sewers and sidewalks, helping finance new business facades, hired an engineering firm to redesign the south side of Main Street with new curbs, sidewalks, brick pavers, planters or trees and decorative lighting.

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