GARY — Despite major financial challenges, “the future of our city is bright because of small businesses and large businesses in our city,” Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson told more than 700 guests at Friday’s State of the City address at the Genesis Convention Center.
Utilizing a new format, Freeman-Wilson provided the bookends for the State of the City by detailing accomplishments and challenges. In between, she called on longtime and new small-business leaders to talk about how Gary officials and organizations are creating opportunities for entrepreneurs.
Pat Lee, of Lee Cos., which has been part of the city for 48 years, said HMD Trucking’s move to Gary from Illinois was spurred by an incentive package the Gary Redevelopment Department “put together in record time.” HMC Trucking is building a 35,000-square-foot facility that will create 500 new jobs by 2021.
Bernard Hawkins said he spent more than 30 years in and out of prison, but that a transition program offered by the Urban League gave him a chance to become a business owner of Get It Done Landscaping.
“We’re going to build this city back,” Hawkins said. “I will be in the trenches.”
Highlighting accomplishments, Freeman-Wilson pointed to the ground-breaking for HMD Trucking, the reopening of the Gary Public Library, new Lake Street businesses in the Miller neighborhood and the completion of the new IUN/Ivy Tech Arts & Sciences building at Indiana University Northwest as “the good news.”
At the Gary Chicago International Airport, “we have two FBOs — Fixed Base Operators — B. Coleman Aviation and Gary Jet Center, who have invested their own money,” Freeman-Wilson said. “We’re also going to have a customs center.”
But, she said, “Those plans are useless unless we have the finances. Our revenue, both property taxes and casino revenue, has been decreasing.”
Although the city has reduced expenses, Freeman-Wilson said there is still “a structural deficit.”
She outlined ways to fix the financial challenges facing Gary, including growing assessed valuation, which has decreased.
“We are going to make tough decisions,” Freeman-Wilson said, pointing to the Genesis Center, which floods frequently.
Crime is also a challenge, the mayor said. However, she said, “The overwhelming majority are property crimes” and encouraged citizens to form block clubs so those committing the crimes “stand out.”
Freeman-Wilson said blight continues to challenge Gary with vacant and abandoned homes and businesses. The cost to demolish just one home is $10,000 while it can cost between $100,000 and $200,000 to demolish a larger commercial building, she said, adding that the total to rid the city of blight is $100 million.
“That’s why I’ve asked for passage of House Bill 1318, not to put a dump in your neighborhood, but so we can get rid of eyesores.”