GARY | Downtown Gary partied like it was the Roaring 1920s to celebrate the arrival of Centier, which hopes to spark a downtown renaissance in a hardscrabble city that's been plagued with crime and depopulation.
Spotlights swept across the historic 10-story century-old Gary State Bank tower, which now has huge Centier marquees and is being called the Centier Building. A red carpet on Wednesday welcomed dignitaries, including Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.
A jazz band played in the grand lobby, while party-goers in fedoras and feather boas nibbled shrimp cocktail, Caprese kabobs and fancy cheeses. They explored lock boxes in the bank vault, and scoped out a 1936 Packard and a Tommy Gun John Dillinger stole from the Porter County Sheriff's Office. Confetti streamers exploded everywhere after a few prepared remarks.
The mood was giddy. Hope ran high.
"We want to make Gary one of those marquee locations, and we put our marquee right at the top," Centier Bank President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Schrage said.
"We want to establish this corner as the start of something big in downtown Gary. This is the start of a renaissance in downtown Gary."
Developer Vance Kenney and his partners extensively renovated the building at 504 Broadway, which now includes a drive-through for the Centier branch and an 8,000-square-foot space in the lobby for special events, such as corporate parties. New tenants include the Gary sanitary district and an employment agency that's taking up the entire third floor.
But the highest-profile tenant is Centier, Indiana's largest privately owned bank, which has 51 locations, including in Gary's Miller, Glen Park and Midtown neighborhoods.
"There are many embers that are glowing in the Gary area," Schrage said.
"I can't say enough about the investments that have been made in the airport, the South Shore, the Railcats stadium, the investments the hospital has made. They're all outstanding, they're all growing, they're all making this a place for the future. Many of you remember Indianapolis had its low tides. I remember the 1960s down there, when it wasn't safe to walk outside. Well, we're going to try to form downtown Gary into something that's very special."
Pence said Centier's investment could help make the future of Gary brighter than its storied past.
"All of Indiana is celebrating this great announcement in the heart of Gary, Ind.," he said.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said it was a great day for Gary and just the start of redevelopment downtown.
"We know the ArtHouse will be a great partner for you," she said. "We know it's always special to be the first in." ArtHouse: A Social Kitchen, promoted by Chicago artist Theaster Gates, will be an arts and culture destination combined with a culinary program the city hopes will spur economic development, similar to creative efforts in other challenged cities. It will also be located nearby in downtown Gary.
Redevelopment continues on the high-rise at 504 Broadway, where developers hope to build a four-story, $32 million data center that would replace the parking garage and be connected to the bank tower via a skywalk. The developers are currently trying to interest universities and health care systems in backing up their data at the site.
Schrage said it was only a matter of time before the rest of the floors in the building fill up. The building, which is the second-tallest in the city and built up to its current height of 142 feet high in 1927, was first erected as a two-story bank in 1909.
Chase Bank and Fagan Pharmacy have had a retail presence on the first floor, but much of the building had sat vacant for years before new developers purchased it two years ago.
"Many people in the state see Gary as a blemish," Schrage said. "I see it as a beauty mark. We're going to turn a blemish into a beauty mark. I look forward to reinvesting in the citizens and businesses of Gary."
"Many people in the state see Gary as a blemish. I see it as a beauty mark. We're going to turn a blemish into a beauty mark. I look forward to reinvesting in the citizens and businesses of Gary." -- Mike Schrage, Centier Bank president and CEO
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