GARY — Since taking the helm of the city in January 2020, Gary Mayor Jerome Prince has begun building a foundation for a reimagined Gary, one that reinvents the city's identity as a technology hub instead of a steel town.
Prince delivered his first in-person State of the City address Wednesday at the Gary SouthShore RailCats Steel Yard stadium, where he discussed economic development projects in the city and progress his administration has made on cleaning up Gary and making the city safer.
Amid the hum of traffic and under blue skies, Prince said together, the city and its residents are addressing the "little things, which for far too many years were allowed to turn into big things."
"That cannot and will not happen again. By focusing on the little things, by fixing what's right in front of us, we are building a foundation," Prince said. "And from that foundation, we can take steps forward and make an even brighter future for the city that we all love."
Progress, while slow, has been steady across the city, the first-term mayor said.
"We are building a stronger future in many different ways, from a stronger focus on code enforcement to investing in public safety, and from doing all that we can to support existing businesses, and of course, to do all that we can to attract new businesses," Prince said.
To that end, the city has issued citations for more than 700 properties through code enforcement, which includes citations for those who have been caught disposing of trash illegally in Gary.
"These are persons that (we) actually were able to catch in the act by deploying our officers on the weekends and evenings alike," he said. "Those are efforts that will continue until we root out every instance of illegal dumping, and people respect our city just as they do their own homes."
More than 650 abandoned vehicles have been tagged, and more than 100 stop-work orders issued for those who have been caught working without the proper permit or license, Prince said.
"This cannot continue to happen because that takes away resources, sorely needed resources, from our city," Prince said.
Forty abandoned structures have been demolished this year, with 15 more set to be razed in October, Prince reported.
The city also is working with organizations, such as the Gary Housing Authority and Habitat for Humanity, to continue to demolish abandoned properties and redevelop vacant land.
When he first took office, Prince vowed to do something about some of the city’s biggest eyesores: its vacant schools.
That promise is becoming a reality as Hammond-based Djuric Trucking is looking to relocate to Gary and revitalize the abandoned Thomas Edison and Ivanhoe elementary schools.
The development, Prince said, is consistent with the city's master plan when it comes to reusing available land.
"Before we brought them here, we looked into their environmental safety history. We received feedback from the existing residents in the neighborhood in which they reside," Prince said. "And we recognize the incredible opportunity that Djuric Trucking will make right here in the city of Gary as they make us their new home."
In an effort to continue eradicating blight, the city is in the process of acquiring more than 100 properties through tax sale — 72 of those parcels are in the Aetna neighborhood, which is adjacent to the Double Track project.
Those properties will then be offered to residents and investors through the Re-Imagine Gary Rehab One, Get Two Free pilot program.
"We believe that this initiative will increase the city's tax base for many years to come," Prince said.
Grants allow projects to flourish
City departments stayed busy in 2021, Prince reported.
The Gary Health Department fought the good fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, noting the city became home to two mass vaccination sites in wake of the pandemic, one at Holy Angels Cathedral and another at Roosevelt High School, which Prince said was "extremely well utilized."
The Gary Building Department has seen permitting increase by 72%, Prince said, noting the city, for the first time, from his understanding, is selling land for profit without an obligation to repay anything.
Prince noted the city also has invested in its public safety sector, and hired 20 new firefighter/EMTs and four new paramedics, as well as 10 new police officers, with 20 more officers set to be hired by year's end.
The Gary Fire Department also was equipped with new firefighting gear for the first time since 2001, Prince noted.
The Gary Police Department is ramping up its technology with new e-ticket machines and 100 of the latest less-than-lethal Tasers.
The police department also will soon see 20 of its own license plate readers (LPR) installed throughout the city. The Lake County Sheriff's Department also is installing LPR cameras in Gary, Prince said.
This year, Prince said the city received $2.3 million in COVID-19 allocations through Community Development Block Grant funding, as well as nearly $2 million in additional allocations of Emergency Solutions Grant funding, which has been used to fund rental assistance programs and food pantries.
The city also has seen the Gary/Chicago International Airport soar, with UPS beginning operations at the airport last year, creating jobs and seeing 50,000 pounds of cargo coming through the facility daily. Prince added Boeing also recently renewed its lease for an additional term.
Earlier this year, the airport received a $3.5 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to rehabilitate its taxiway.
More than $17 million, in collaboration with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was spent to upgrade Gary Sanitary District equipment and the city's wastewater treatment plant.
The city also completed more than $1.5 million in street paving with help from the state's Community Crossing Matching Grant program, with new paving projects to be submitted to the Indiana Department of Transportation for 2022.
Construction is ongoing for phase three of the Gary Green Link Marquette Trail project from Polk to Roosevelt streets, which Prince said is a $1.3 million investment, largely made up of federal funds.
The city also is continuing to work with the National Park Service to acquire more land to complete the Lake Street to Grand Boulevard and western sections of the trail, Prince added.
Prince also discussed the city's proposed plan for spending half of its $80.3 million allocation through the American Rescue Plan, a plan he shared earlier this week during a Gary Chamber of Council luncheon. The Gary Common Council still has to approve the American Rescue Plan appropriations.
Projects planned for using the $40.2 million include:
- $13.6 million toward upgrading the city's 100-year-old-plus sewer infrastructure
- $10.15 million deposited into the city's general fund to make up revenue lost in 2020 compared to 2019
- $5 million to provide low-cost 5G internet to residents and business in Gary and internet training for senior citizens
- $3 million for pension fund payments
- $3 million for premium pay for city employees
- $2 million to expand vaccination programs, COVID testing, contact tracing and public health monitoring in Gary
- $1.2 million for city facility upgrades
- $750,000 toward the city's Guaranteed Income Validation Effort, or GIVE, program
- $200,000 for the city's summer youth employment program
- $200,000 toward the business assistance program
- $150,000 toward Gary's home ownership program
- $150,000 for training men and women in a library sciences program with the Gary Public Library
- $150,000 for the business micro-loan program
- $100,000 for job retraining and tuition assistance
- $50,000 for the commercial rental assistance program
Gallery: Prince touts continued blight eradication, new identity for Gary during State of the City address
Gary Mayor Jerome Prince delivered his first in-person State of the City address Wednesday at the Gary SouthShore RailCats Steel Yard stadium, where he discussed economic development projects in the city and progress his administration has made on cleaning up Gary and making the city safer.