Revitalizing the region

2011-02-27T00:00:00Z Revitalizing the regionBy Lauri Harvey Keagle lauri.keagle@nwi.com, (219) 852-4311 nwitimes.com

It's no secret that Gary has had its share of challenges over the years, but a group of stakeholders hopes it can help make changes there that will lead to success for the entire region.

"Gary and Northwest Indiana are in a position to become a model for other cities and regions facing similar challenges," said Kristi DeLaurentiis, government relations director for the Chicago-based Metropolitan Planning Council.

Gary and Region Investment Project, or GRIP, is a collaborative effort of The Times Media Co. and the Metropolitan Planning Council. The project is an offshoot of the One Region, One Vision project spearheaded by Times Publisher Bill Masterson Jr. and Executive Editor William Nangle.

The effort is aimed at revitalizing the region's urban core.

For Gary, many of the problems are rooted in the city's dire financial situation. Indiana's Distressed Unit Appeals Board granted the city $21 million in relief from tax caps in each of the past two years, but the city's property tax revenue still has been cut in half since tax caps were instituted.

The loss of revenue from the bankruptcy of the Majestic Star Casino hurt Gary as well.

Mayor Rudy Clay, who is known for saying of his city, "the best is yet to come," is a vocal cheerleader for Gary.

In looking back on 2010 during a January press conference, Clay cited the federally funded demolition of 101 abandoned buildings (with the goal of getting them back on the tax rolls), paving 22 streets with $2.8 million in state funds and the use of federal dollars to put 96 police squads on the street as accomplishments in the city.

GRIP's focus is on looking ahead. In late 2010, the partnership surveyed 800 residents on their thoughts for improving Gary and the region.

Implementing the Gary/Chicago International Airport's business plan for expansion was top priority, followed by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District's proposed transit-oriented development plan around South Shore stations.

That project involves developing retail corridors near at least one South Shore commuter rail stop in Gary, preferably the Lake Street station in the city's Miller neighborhood.

Coming in third was a Downtown-Midtown/Broadway Plan for expanding area universities into downtown Gary and revitalizing old buildings there.

"It's clear people are passionate about doing something now to turn around Gary and Northwest Indiana's urban core communities," DeLaurentiis said. "We're looking forward to working even more closely with local community members, businesses, and civic and institutional partners in May, when we begin to roll up our sleeves and develop specific investment strategies for the projects that will have the greatest ripple effect on the region."

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