Mayor urges business to help city grow
By Michelle L. Quinn Post-Tribune correspondent January 13, 2014 10:40PM
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson
Updated: January 14, 2014 1:05PM
GARY — Halfway through her first term as mayor, Karen Freeman-Wilson said Gary has plenty to be proud of, and the business community should echo that sentiment.
Giving her annual “State of the City” address during the Greater Gary Chamber of Commerce’s first meeting of 2014 at the Majestic Star Casino Monday, the mayor reminded the business people in the packed room that she will do what she can to draw new firms to town — and they should, too.
“We have an open-door policy, so tell them you’ll facilitate the process and make the introductions,” she said. “We want people to promote their positive experiences and talk to people about their successes.”
Freeman-Wilson touted the city’s accomplishments thus far, including the proposed $100 million public-private partnership with the Gary/Chicago International Airport, and a partnership among the city and several different federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. A meeting she had with those federal agencies in early 2012 has culminated in a special designation the Obama Administration plans to announce Thursday.
She also counted the upcoming Sheraton Hotel demolition among her accomplishments. Even better is the $700,000 in funding the city has received from the EPA for the Northside Redevelopment project.
“The EPA has not always come to Gary bearing gifts; the EPA has come bearing fines, bearing subpoenas and bearing other punitive measures,” she said. “But we now have an active partner in the EPA because of our business efforts.”
The mayor also praised her staff, many of whom gave up lucrative positions to either return or come to the city for the first time.
All is not completely sunny and the sailing isn’t always smooth, she noted. The city has a “murder epidemic,” she said, and until people feel completely safe, it may be hard attracting business to Gary.
And as people vacate and less property tax money comes in, Gary will have to continue doing more with less while trying to manage residents’ expectations. During last week’s blizzard, for example, the city was able to clear 51 square miles of the city using only four big trucks and 11 pickup trucks with plows attached.
The city set up a system for clearing main roads in 24 hours, side streets in 48 and alleyways in 72 hours, she said, but there were still plenty of complaints.
“We are challenged in resources, which forces us to be greater in production, but also to manage expectations,” she said.