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Kite surfing on Lake Michigan

Ryne Wellman of Mokena, Illinois, kite surfs on Lake Michigan at Marquette Park in Gary. 

Woe is me! The website Business Insider has decided Gary is one of the “most miserable” cities in the United States. The authors of the report do not claim to have ever visited the city in person, but they cite statistics, many of which show a very distressful situation. And to be frank, all of us locals already know about the problems facing Gary and the long litany of missteps that have brought the city to its present state.

As the many challenges have piled up, it has become almost axiomatic to believe that Gary is a depressed and depressing place. And yet are things really as bad as pictured? Is the future as hopeless as some like to claim? I don’t think so.

Many fine people make their homes there. Several neighborhoods show impressive vitality. Activity is beginning to occur downtown, admittedly just small steps right now. Development around the expanded Miller South Shore station is anticipated as part of the double tracking project. The magnificent block-long building on the IUN campus shared with Ivy Tech would be a proud addition to any community.

Gary has truly impressive advantages of location and infrastructure. Commuter rail to the vibrant Chicago market — Gary has it. Modern network of highspeed highways — Gary has the Toll Road, I-80/94 and I-65. Few communities can boast of more. An airport, underutilized at present, but capable of handling just about any commercial aircraft now flying. Surely with the right nudge, that airport can become a major transportation hub. By choosing to hanger its corporate fleet at Gary, the Boeing Corporation has recognized the airport’s capabilities. Noting Gary’s logistic advantages, Amazon has opened a large warehouse in the city from which it dispatches its fleet of Prime delivery trucks throughout Northwest Indiana.

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Best of all, within its city limits, Gary has about 30% of Indiana’s Lake Michigan shoreline. Marquette Park and the Indiana Dunes National Park are already destination locations. Congressman Pete Visclosky’s tireless efforts to increase access to the lakefront only enhances the city’s potential draw. The removal of the casinos from the lakefront may serve both recreational opportunities and economic development.

All this is not to deny the challenges presented by a distressed school district, high crime rate, too many abandoned homes and the low rate of property tax collections. The city needs to make further improvements in facilitating business development and job creation. The steel industry’s uncertain future is another major concern.

But this is no time to give up, throw in the towel or declare all is lost. Gary remains a diamond in the rough. Some will say, “very rough.” That may be, but the best response is to keep polishing that diamond until it sparkles. While I can’t say what time period will be needed, I have no doubt that Gary will have a bright future if city leaders and the broader Northwest Indiana community have faith and apply their collective best efforts to the task. A growing, prosperous and successful Gary will be good for all of us.

Let’s get to it!

Cal Bellamy is pledge project chairman for the Shared Ethics Advisory Commission. The opinions are the writer's.

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