GARY | The historic election of the city's first black female mayor is expected to energize the ongoing effort to revive the Steel City.
Karen Freeman-Wilson's nomination was historic for the city and community. When she took office in the beginning of the year, she vowed the community would see a new day.
Her plan is to shutter as many abandoned buildings as possible and aggressively encourage economic development in the downtown corridor beginning with tearing down one of the city's largest eyesores, the Sheraton Hotel.
"It's at one of the gateways to our city," she said. "Its one of the first things people see when they come off the Toll Road. People who are frequent visitors to the Genesis Center and the courthouse also see it, and it speaks volumes to the amount of decay and despair in our city."
The demolition of the deteriorating building, at 465 Broadway, is expected to begin soon, after a contractor is chosen for the project.
In addition to the mayor's efforts to enhance the city, millions of dollars are being pumped into the area to bolster special projects aimed toward making the city more attractive.
The transformation of the former Tolleston High School into a brand new Boys & Girls Club is expected to be a more than $6 million endeavor. Officials plan to renovate the aging school, at 2700 W. 19th Ave., into a fully functioning club and administrative building by the end of the year.
"You have local residents who will have the opportunity to work (on the renovation), and the long-term benefit is the fact that the club will become a beacon in the community," Freeman-Wilson said.
The other notable large beautification project is under way on the lakeshore. The $28 million Marquette Park restoration project was awarded millions of dollars in federal grants late last year.
The project was stalled by vandalism but should still be completed this year, city officials said.
As part of Freeman-Wilson's four-year plan, she hopes to construct new housing on the lakefront to complement the park's renovation.
"I can't think of any other place to invest in rather than Marquette Park," she said. "You have a beautiful lakefront. You have homes that are off the lagoon and you have homes both to the east and west of Marquette Park, and it really is beautiful."
Another focal point for community leaders is the area surrounding the Gary/Chicago International Airport.
Accessibility to the city also will be bolstered by a new agreement to provide direct air routes between Gary and Orlando, Fla., through Allegiant Air, airport director Steve Landry said.
"We're providing services to Northwest Indiana again," he said.
Freeman-Wilson hopes the airport will eventually be able to help alleviate the overcrowding in Chicago's airports and bring business to Gary.
"We have three rail lines and four interstates that run through Gary," she said. "We have a waterfront and an airport. The airport is one of the transportation assets that is undeveloped. We have an opportunity there to utilize that asset."
All of the new development planned for the city is creating hope, Freeman-Wilson said.
"So many people want to be helpful," she said. "And it's exciting because there is an opportunity for us to really succeed."