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GARY — The historic City Methodist Church, plagued by human health threats, must be remediated before the city can transform the architectural gem into a European-style ruins garden and tourist attraction, records show.

The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority and Gary Redevelopment Commission are seeking public comment through Jan. 4 on the three environmental cleanup proposals for the 577 Washington St. structure in downtown Gary.

The cleanup will be partially funded with $47,000 from the U.S. EPA’s Brownfield Revolving Loan Fund, according to the alternative analysis.

The RDA will oversee cleanup under the Gary Redevelopment Commission, while the Indiana Brownfields Program and Indiana Finance Authority will provide oversight and technical assistance.

RDA grants manager Jill Huber said a project timeline is forthcoming.

The City Methodist Church, a nine-story sanctuary that was once home to the largest Methodist congregation in the Midwest, was abandoned more than 40 years ago and has since been rotting away, exposed to the elements. 

The site attracts attention from photographers and tourists seeking urban ruins, but it is also exposed to trespassing children and criminal activity. 

Asbestos-containing material migrating from the church in the air and rainwater runoff creates potential health hazards for sensitive populations, including children and the elderly, in the neighborhood and the adjacent 21st Century Charter School, the analysis states.

Before the towering Gothic structure can be remediated, the building must be partially demolished and environmentally sensitive materials must be abated, the analysis adds.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced last year it had awarded the city’s Redevelopment Commission $163,333 for a ruins garden project, which likely will be one of the largest ruins gardens in the nation.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said Thursday several positive changes have taken place over the past few years in this downtown corridor near Sixth and Washington streets, with the renovation of the Gary Public Library and Cultural Center, the additions of ArtHouse: A Social Kitchen and R&R Sports Bar and Grill, and more. 

“The revitalization of this ruins garden will fit right in,” she said. 

The scope of abatement includes both non-friable and friable asbestos-containing materials.

Polychlorinated biphenyl-containing light ballasts and hydraulic equipment, universal and electronic wastes and an ionizing smoke detector that may contain low-level radioactive waste also must be abated during demolition.

“Through this redevelopment, the site will serve to provide a unique public space in downtown Gary, and promote tourism through adaptive reuse of a historic structure,” the Gary Redevelopment Commission stated.

Three alternatives presented by the RDA include no action at all, abatement of friable ACMs, or abatement of both friable and non-friable ACMs, records show.

The third alternative is the preferred cleanup, at a cost of $46,200, because it is the most effective and protective, officials said.

Public comment period

People can submit comment on the proposals through Jan. 4 in writing, email or verbally by appointment with:

  • Jill Huber, grants manager, Northwest Indiana Brownfields Coalition, 9800 Connecticut Drive in Crown Point; 219-644-3500 or email at jahuber@rda.in.gov
  • Mike Citro, economic development strategist, Gary Economic Development Corporation, 504 Broadway in Gary; 219-886-1531 or email at mcitro@ci.gary.in.us.

Copies of the draft ABCA and other project documents are available for public inspection at the the Northwest Indiana Brownfields Coalition and at the Gary Redevelopment Commission. 

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Northlake County Reporter

Lauren covers North Lake County government, breaking news, crime and environmental issues for The Times. She previously worked at The Herald-News in Joliet. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting.