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Gary added to Strong Cities, Strong Communities program

The old SheratHotel looms over parking lot next City Hall Gary. | Sun-Times Medifile

The old Sheraton Hotel looms over the parking lot next to City Hall in Gary. | Sun-Times Media file

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Updated: February 18, 2014 6:26AM



GARY — Federal officials Thursday named Gary one of seven selected cities for the second round of Strong Cities, Strong Communities, or SC2, a program that will put federal experts in and around City Hall to work on housing and transportation improvement and economic development.

In a national conference call, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and White House Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Munoz said the seven communities will get custom technical expertise from teams of federal experts in everything from public housing to land use to transportation under the program.

“It’s about every aspect of what our challenged cities and communities need to create jobs and create opportunities,” Donovan said. “It really is about an expansion of opportunity.”

The other communities selected are St. Louis, Mo., Rockford, Ill., Flint, Mich., Macon, Ga., Rocky Mount, N.C. and Brownsville, Texas.

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the SC2 program will help the city pull together and expedite a number of programs that otherwise may have taken more time to complete.

“That’s a tremendous boost,” she said of the program. “The thing I like about it is it helps us better coordinate federal support. Every community has a right to federal help, but you really have to know how to leverage it in a way that it has the greatest impact.”

About 90 communities were invited to apply to the SC2, and 71 did, but one HUD official, who asked not to be identified, said Gary was chosen on the strength of its application.

“Gary really had a compelling vision of where they want to go as a city and the technical assistance and federal expertise it wanted,” he said.

The HUD official said the agency particularly liked Gary’s University Park development and planned land use initiatives.

A team of City Hall employees worked on the SC2 application with 18 universities, public service agencies and private companies. The process included a site visit and a series of interviews.

Beginning in March, SC2 will send at least two federal experts to City Hall to work directly with city officials on a number of issues, and they also will have access to other experts, Americorps volunteers and others for one year, with an option to extend the help to two years.

Freeman-Wilson said the team likely will focus first on demolishing the abandoned Sheraton Hotel. Getting rid of the massive eyesore is key to the city’s focus on a long-term North Side development project.

Afterwards, the team “will fan out and really look at development of Emerson, downtown area” before focusing on Gary’s lakefront, particularly the recently completed rehabilitation of the Marquette Park and beach areas and determine how to best leverage investments there, the mayor said.

Federal help from the first round of SC2 already has led to about $370 million in new development and investments for Memphis, Detroit, Cleveland and New Orleans, Munoz said.



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