The cities of East Chicago and Gary are working to restore key residential and commercial corridors to vibrance after suffering decades of disinvestment.
Creating a sense of permanence is how East Chicago leaders believe the city can improve conditions in the North Harbor neighborhood. John Artis, executive director of the city's Department of Redevelopment, said the development efforts are concentrated at the 3700 and 3800 blocks of Main Street, and then the goal is to work on Broadway Street.
While sitting inside one of the structures built at Main and Broadway within the last year, Mayor Anthony Copeland said he's pleased new apartments line streets, but admits more can be done. Plans are being made to build more apartments and single-family residences in the area and the city wants to launch a façade remodeling program and convince businesses to move from deteriorating sites to create clusters in improved locations.
Copeland also said his job is to ensure the North Harbor is the best place for people living there and that he won't let negative stigmata drag the city's plans down.
"It is an area in need of some vision and direction, and that's what we're trying to set," Copeland said.
Local businesses are closely watching what happens with residential developments, according to C. Louis Mitsch, the vice president of a firm that is developing housing units in the area. Mitsch, of The Community Builders Inc., said even if the area isn't able to land a large Target or a Walmart store, attracting service-based businesses would be a boon.
"Everybody is looking for rooftops and without rooftops, you have no business," Mitsch said.
East Chicago's eastern neighbor Gary has a clearly defined downtown, but residents and officials admit the corridor at Broadway and 5th Avenue needs work. Assets not located downtown, such as the airport and Marquette Park, have significant projects under way. But Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the Steel City needs to begin knocking down buildings such as the shuttered Hotel and create an environment that encourages investment in the city's central business district.
In order for development to take place, Freeman-Wilson said there has to be a reduction in the amount of abandoned buildings of all types. She hopes that recent conversations with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development can eventually yield a partnership to help the cause.
"(We have to) deal with blighted areas in a way that we are able to offer them for development for those who have viable plans and viable financing to support those plans," Freeman-Wilson said. She also said that developers and the city should work as partners on projects.
With more than 80,000 residents in the city, she said retail establishments can be supported and pointed to locations being opened at the completed Dalton Arms building on 5th Avenue and a planned multifamily residential building at 7th Avenue and Broadway. Freeman-Wilson said the city has been in discussions with a group interested in reopening a restaurant in the space that Bennigan's previously occupied at the U.S. Steel Yard, home of the Gary SouthShore RailCats.
Gary booster and resident John Key said the branding of Gary needs to change to present the Steel City as an urban utopia since it already has key assets such as the lakefront and transportation assets including an airport, connections to interstate highways and rail.
Key was a former operator of the Plaza One Bar & Bistro in Gary and co-owner of the firm that served as executive manager of the Genesis Center.
"A lot of the necessary ingredients are here," Key said. "(We) thought about a model community that could be an example for urban centers or the urban core anywhere."
There is a lot of artistic talent in Gary and the downtown area can be developed to be a destination for culture and entertainment, Key said. But before that happens, he said it's important to ensure residents have entrepreneurship training to be prepared to capture economic opportunities from these ventures.