Gary mayor cites a year of making progress
By Michelle L. Quinn Post-Tribune correspondent January 14, 2013 6:46PM
Indiana attorney general Karen Freeman-Wilson. Post-Tribune Photo by Jeffrey D. Nicholls Freeman_Wilson-Karen-01-C
Updated: January 14, 2013 9:51PM
GARY — Relationships built within the first year of Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson’s tenure have made all the difference and will continue to do so as the city moves forward.
The city’s top administrator told a packed banquet room at City Buffet during the Gary Chamber of Commerce’s first meeting of the year that a meeting she held with several federal agencies last year has gone a long way in realizing accomplishments for the city. At a time when many people associate the federal government’s interest in the city with criminal action or punitive measures, such as with the Gary Sanitary District consent decree, that meeting fostered an era of how to make progress.
“We sat down with the regional heads of the Department of Justice, HUD, EPA, Army Corps of Engineers, and departments of Health and Labor, and as a result, it wasn’t a meeting where they said ‘Oh yeah, we’re here to help, wink, wink,’ ” she said.
One of the biggest acoomplishments will be the long-awaited demolition of the Sheraton Hotel, which the mayor expects to be torn down by June 30. She acknowledged the demolition won’t be free — the total cost is set at $1.2 million so far — as she’d touted last year.
“We’ll use a combination of EPA, RDA and HUD money to tear down the Sheraton,” she said. “It’s not for free, but we’re not dipping into city funds. We’ll use brownfield money and HUD money that’s set to expire.”
Freeman-Wilson also praised the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, the Legislature-established agency that has given the city $28 million for the nearly completed Marquette Park and $30 million to the Gary/Chicago International Airport, which is on schedule for its December 2013 completion.
“I can’t remember the last time I paid $30 and got $60 in return,” she said. “Yes, we’re paying the RDA $3.5 million a year, but the reality is, look at Marquette Park and the airport. If you look at what we’ve paid, I think we’re doing pretty well.”
Finances are looking better for the city, as its deficit has been reduced, and her administration continues to seek ways to reduce the deficit even more. She cited the recent Fire Department/EMS merger as an example, saying layoffs were unfortunate but necessary.
“It never feels good or looks good (to lay off personnel), but in our efforts to solidify, we couldn’t continue certain positions,” she said. “And I don’t hang anything on what the (General Assembly) passes; that’s like sitting at a craps table.
Freeman-Wilson said her goals will continue to include restoring Gary’s image so it is viewed as a place where people want to do business. And, she said, she welcomes any and all universities who want to be involved in setting the city on the right path.
“We have enough to go around,” she said.