Gary hopes to identify mystery tower atop Sheraton before demolition
By Carole Carlson email@example.com | 648-3154 November 28, 2012 4:57PM
The roof of the Genesis Center offers a view of downtown, including the old Sheraton hotel building which holds a tower from its roof, (at right) in Gary, Ind. Wednesday November 28, 2012. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 30, 2012 3:46PM
GARY — Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson plans to make good on a campaign pledge to knock down the 14-story former Sheraton Hotel, but first the city needs to identify the owner of a mystery tower atop its roof.
Two microwave antennas are attached to the tower. There are red lightning streaks on the antennas.
“Nobody can figure it out,” Freeman-Wilson said of the tower’s origin.
While the tower mystery simmers, Freeman-Wilson is setting plans in motion to knock down the former hotel that closed in 1985 and has become a looming eyesore on Broadway, just south of City Hall.
Vandals have somehow found their way to the roof and scribbled graffiti on the side of the building. Windows are knocked out and there’s a clear view of the outside from one side to the other on some floors.
The mayor said she plans to use a combination of funding, including anticipated Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority money, to demolish the old hotel.
Because there’s still asbestos remaining, she said the city expects to receive a $400,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency brownfield remediation grant.
In addition, the city will tap into $600,000 of its federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program money and it has applied for $200,000 in funding from the RDA. The RDA board of directors has not acted on the request yet.
Freeman-Wilson said she hopes to announce the demolition plans by the end of the year. She hopes bids can be advertised and work under way by spring or early summer.
“The project is definitely in motion. We have to go through the formal bid process,” said Freeman-Wilson.
The Sheraton played a role in the 2007 mayoral primary Freeman-Wilson lost to former Mayor Rudy Clay.
Three months before the primary, Clay announced an ambitious downtown revitalization project centered on the old Sheraton. Clay promised $70 million in private investment to transform the Sheraton into condominiums, sparking downtown development.
Shortly after Clay’s announcement, Freeman-Wilson held a news conference outside the Sheraton. She declared Clay was making promises he couldn’t keep and she called for an independent audit of city finances.
Clay won that election and a four-year term. He didn’t run for re-election however, and Freeman-Wilson captured the job last year. Just 10 days into her term, Freeman-Wilson promised the Sheraton would come down.
By 2010, Clay gave up on the Sheraton deal and the investors who promised the revival deeded the hotel back to the city, blaming the recession for their failure.
The developers received a $728,000 EPA loan to remove asbestos from the hotel. Most of the asbestos was removed by a contractor but a small amount remained.
Freeman-Wilson said the EPA has shown “a willingness” to forgive the loan.