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Inside City Methodist Church

The Gary Redevelopment Commission is borrowing money from a brownfield remediation program to perform asbestos abatement work at the old City Methodist Church.

The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority approved two loans from a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency program Thursday that will help a private developer get a $34 million industrial project in Hammond underway, and will give a boost to Gary's plans for the old City Methodist Church.

South Bend-based developer Park 24 will borrow up to $700,000 from the EPA-backed Northwest Indiana Brownfields Coalition program for demolition and environmental remediation work at 24 Marble St. in Hammond, site of the former Calumet Flexicore concrete plank maker. Park 24 intends to develop the site for a manufacturer.

And, the Gary Redevelopment Commission will borrow just over $46,000 for asbestos abatement at City Methodist, which it is turning into a "ruins garden" — a park-like space with portions of the Gothic-style church as a backdrop. RDA Chief Operating Officer Sherri Ziller said the loan will be used as leverage for more funding from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs.

The RDA Board of Directors has the responsibility of approving loans recommended by the NWI Brownfields Coalition, which was created in 2013 with an $800,000 EPA grant. That grant was supplemented a year later by a $600,000 grant to be used for brownfield assessment work. 

24 Marble Street

Park 24 Manager Mike Kelly said his company is eyeing a facility as large as 535,000 square feet on the 23-acre 24 Marble St. site.

Kelly said Park 24 is negotiating with several Illinois manufacturers interested in moving to Indiana to take advantage of the state's favorable property tax and workman's compensation insurance rates, as well as the relative stability in its governance. 

"I'm hoping to have a tenant lined up in the next two months," Kelly said. "Our prospective list is very long."

Calumet Flexicore went out of business in 2008, Kelly said. Before Calumet, the site was home to Federal Cement from the turn of the 20th century to the mid-50s, he said.

The number of structures on the site will require extensive demolition work, and the ground is contaminated with a variety of substances, including creasote, PCBs, asbestos and petroleum-based contaminants Kelly said.

Park 24 is following the protocols of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management's Voluntary Remediation Program, and Kelly said he hopes work is completed in six months.

"We want a green site when we commence construction," he said.

The project is west of the site of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District's proposed rail yard to service its West Lake Corridor, and south of the proposed South Shore Gateway Station that's also part of the West Lake project. 

Kelly said Park 24 is working on three similar projects in Hammond, ranging in size from 200,000 to 500,000 square feet.

City Church

The City Church Ruins Garden project was started with a $163,333 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced last year. The intention is to create a community and cultural center in the landmark, but decaying, church at Washington Street and Sixth Avenue.

Gary officials said at the time of the Knight Foundation grant that the intention of the project is "to transform the blighted former City Methodist Church into a safe, aesthetically unique space for cultural programming and tourism. When complete, the City Church Ruins Garden will be one of the largest ruins gardens in the country, encouraging tourism and providing a creative public green space downtown."

The NWI Brownfields Coalition revolving loan program has also made loans for environmental assessment work at Lost Marsh in Hammond and for remediation work at the Ambassador Hotel and Apartments site in Gary. The loans are limited to projects in Gary, Hammond and East Chicago.

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Transportation Reporter

Andrew covers transportation, real estate, casinos and other topics for The Times business section. A Crown Point native, he joined The Times in 2014, and has more than 15 years experience as a reporter and editor at Region newspapers.