Lakeshore Report

Lakeshore Report: “Magic” in Gary

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May 2, 2014—As cities and towns across America continue to recover from the recent recession, ideas on how to attract economic development are common. But in the city of Gary, where the tax base has been in decline for decades, officials know it will take much more than ideas to change the city’s future. This week, two events made headlines with claims of real change, and fast. City leaders say what’s coming in the next few months might even seem like magic.

The city of Gary is no stranger to broken promises. So when powerful people say positive change is on the way, residents in the Steel City are understandably skeptical. But some officials say the evidence of change is already beginning to appear.

“The City of Gary is now prepared and able to engage serious investors and serious developers in getting things done.” says J. Forest Hayes, Executive Director of Gary’s Economic Development Corporation. “We are not in the practice of throwing good money after bad.”

This week Hayes presented the city’s updated University Park plan to local business leaders and potential investors. Also known as Glen Park, University Park is the area between I-65 and Grant Street, and Ridge Road and 33rd Avenue. City officials plan to use the campuses of Indiana University Northwest, Ivy Tech, and the Gary Career Center as anchors in the community, and build retail and dining options for the students at those institutions.

Hayes says, “Between the 6,500 students at Indiana University Northwest, 3,500 students at Ivy Tech, and over 500 students at the Gary Community School Corporation’s offering, that’s over 10,000 students with no outlet for their disposable cash.”

The plan also includes a new $45 million dollar performing arts center and teaching space to be shared by the two colleges at the intersection of Broadway and 35th Avenue.

But Hayes says residential development is also part of the plan, and the city envisions infill residential and townhouses down 35th Avenue, providing student housing near both campuses. Education and a strong school system are also key components of the redevelopment plan. And for that, the city is counting on a little bit of “magic.”

Earvin “Magic” Johnson spoke at the Genesis Center Monday night, as a fundraiser for “A Gary Promise,” a plan to help Gary students through scholarships, mentoring, and leadership and career training.

Before the event, Johnson told reporters, “I grew up poor but I didn’t have poor dreams.
My whole passion is inner-city youth, and making sure that they understand that it’s about their education, not about playing ball.”

Johnson’s promise claims to be about much more than signing checks. Johnson told the crowd repeatedly that he will be back, and hopes to develop businesses in the city.

“We can also bring jobs,” he told the press, “I can build different businesses here, so that we can, again, build up the infrastructure here in Gary. Provide opportunities, provide job opportunities for the people who live here.”

Johnson currently owns about 125 Starbucks franchises, and that’s just the kind of development the city hopes to attract to University Park.

Hayes says “This footprint has room for five, six, seven, eight, nine mixed use development properties.”

This week’s developments seem promising, with at least the appearance of cooperation at both the local and state level. Residents may not be completely convinced, but hope seems to be growing, and in a place where hope is sometimes hard to come by, it’s at least a start.

Hayes concluded, “If you want to really boil down what University Park is designed to do is to effectively marry Indiana University, Ivy Tech, and the Gary Community School Corporation into one massive force for catalytic change. This isn’t all about planning, we want to get results.”

Hayes says state officials have approved the necessary funds for the shared performing arts center, and construction could begin later this year.

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