Of the 33 shuttered Gary schools that hit the real estate market last month, only one received an offer in the first round of bidding, according to Peggy Hinckley, emergency manager.
“Obviously, we were hoping for more bids, but we were also not surprised,” said Hinckley, who was appointed last year to dig the cash-strapped Gary Community Schools Corp. out of debt.
“One thing I’ve learned from this is patience. We’re not on an emergency timeline. The last thing we want to do is panic and auction off properties. That would be a mistake. We want to let the process play out,” she said.
Hinckley said the city of Gary submitted a bid of $100,000 for the Benjamin Franklin Elementary School property at 600 E. 35th Ave. — about $1.3 million less than the initial asking price.
The property is key to the city’s application for a $30 million federal grant to create multi-use development and affordable housing in the area under its University Park East plan.
“We understand the city has limited resources and we would prefer to be partners with the city in helping them achieve that goal in approving the area,” Hinckley said.
Hinckley said no decision has been made as to whether to accept the city's low bid.
If the bid is accepted, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said that places the city in a better position to apply for the $30 million Choice Neighborhoods grant.
The plan calls for demolition of several public housing sites, replacement housing, commercial development, workforce development opportunities and education activities adjacent to Ivy Tech, according to Arlene Colvin, the city's community development department director and point person on the Choice Neighborhoods grant efforts.
Freeman-Wilson said city staff is determining if it will apply for the $30 million grant in this round, or wait until 2019.
Lowered assessments for handful of schools
Hinckley said concerns were raised by board members at a recent fiscal management meeting, mainly about the asking prices being inflated or unrealistic.
“(Absent paying for private assessments,) how do you guess what properties are worth before you see who’s interested? We’re amateurs at that and so we used the assessments listed at the assessor’s office. We needed to just see what developed.”
Hinckley said after a Times editorial ran calling out the district's use of outdated and inflated assessments, she said she received lowered reassessments on approximately eight properties from the Calumet Township assessor’s office.
Hinckley could not immediately provide the names of the eight properties. The Calumet Township assessor’s office was not able to provide a list by deadline.
An amended legal ad is expected to run in local newspapers on Monday detailing the lowered assessed values on the handful of properties that originally were listed with outdated assessments.
The first bidding round, which ended Friday, was limited to local taxing units. A second phase of the bidding process remains the general public, ending Aug. 24.
Auctioning off properties is one option, but one of last resort, Hinckley said. The district wants to serve as good neighbors to the community — and that means selling properties to responsible buyers and developers.
"The problem with auctions, you lose control of the properties," Hinckley said.
Freeman-Wilson said she also is opposed to auctioning properties off. There are folks interested in the more marketable school properties, such as Wirt-Emerson that's located less than a mile from the lakefront, she said.
"And clearly, there are folks who want the property to be given to them. That’s not something the Gary School Corp. wants to do, and frankly, that's not something I want to do," Freeman-Wilson said.