GARY — Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson started her second term sharing her vision for the Steel City in 2016 as the guest speaker at Monday’s Gary Chamber of Commerce membership meeting at the Majestic Star Casino.
Redevelopment remains key to revitalizing the city’s 52-square miles and improving the quality of life for residents and businesses, Freeman-Wilson told the more than 100 guests at the meeting sponsored by one of those new businesses, Marram Health Care.
“Development is easy because you have a blank canvas. Redevelopment is also positive, but totally different,” the mayor said.
She illustrated her message with a “Pushing Gary Forward 2016” slide show highlighting redevelopment of Gary’s north side. Some of the redevelopment stems from private-public partnerships while others are made possible by grant monies and state/federal funds, she said.
The designation of Methodist Hospitals Northlake Campus as a Level 3 trauma center “is an integral part of that redevelopment” as is renovation of the hospital’s emergency department and intensive care unit, Freeman-Wilson said.
In another partnership that’s helping the city, developer Vance Kenney and his partners extensively renovated the historic century-old Gary State Bank building at 504 Broadway, and Centier Bank became a major tenant in October 2015, she noted.
Freeman-Wilson showed plans for the site of the former Sheraton Hotel demolished in October 2014 that features a memorial garden. In addition, Progressive Community Church plans to turn an urban garden into an urban farm that will provide employment as well as fresh produce in another north side area.
The mayor also highlighted The ArtHouse: A Social Kitchen. This multi-phase project will become a restaurant incubator and “provide a canvas for artists,” she said, adding that the project already has received funding through a $600,000 grant from the Knight Foundation and a $1 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
In the Aetna neighborhood, Freeman-Wilson said the Vacant to Vibrant program is providing both open spaces for children to play and much-needed stormwater infrastructure.
Marquette Park and the entire lakefront area were the scene of two marathons and several other walk/runs that brought more than 600 people to the recreation area.
The expansion of the runway at the Gary/Chicago International Airport “is a springboard for us to continue our private/public partnership. It increases and improves development. We saw over 40 percent increase in business in just half a year because of the extended runway,” Freeman-Wilson said.
Gary’s renaissance is also a partnership between its residents, neighborhood groups, churches, educators and businesses, she said.
“Public safety is more than law enforcement ... It means being involved,” Freeman-Wilson said. “Know when things are out of order. ... The killing has to stop.”
Quality of life in Gary also involves upgrading the infrastructure and demolishing vacant houses and abandoned buildings.
In 2016, plans are in place to pave Broadway and Airport Road, she said. “We will focus on the worst streets first.”
The city is “in dire need of demolition” and that money made available by the federal and state has been used to target demolition where redevelopment is occurring, the mayor said.
“If we were able to demolish everything, we would need $40 million,” Freeman-Wilson said, adding that the demolition “plays a key role in the enjoyment or lack of enjoyment you have in your community.”