Gary looks to partners to recharge city
By Carole Carlson firstname.lastname@example.org/302-0949 July 17, 2014 11:08PM
The company hired to demolish the Sheraton Hotel provided a photo moment for city and federal officials and other onlookers Thursday. An excavator took out a railing on a first floor balcony. Some demolition will begin July 25, but the 17-story hotel won't come down until October. | Carole Carlson~for Sun-Times Media
IF YOU GO
What: Strong Cities, Strong Communities - Northwest Indiana
When: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday,
Where: Genesis Center
Learn more: To register and learn more, visit nirpc.org (Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission)
Updated: August 19, 2014 6:34AM
GARY — Tired of being a magnet for horror and sci-fi movies, the city wants to rewrite the script.
Backed by resources from the Obama administration and state and local partners, the city is launching a project to revitalize neighborhoods in the Horace Mann, Emerson, Aetna and Miller areas, along with University Park in Glen Park.
Officials joined with Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson Thursday to provide a demolition update on the city’s long-running eyesore, the Sheraton Hotel. The city is also hosting next week’s “Strong Cities, Strong Communities” symposium Tuesday and Wednesday at the Genesis Center.
“This has been a long-anticipated moment,” Freeman-Wilson said of the program that draws on federal expertise in areas of economic development, transportation, and housing.
From her first day in office, Freeman-Wilson has targeted the demolition of the Sheraton, which sits directly south of City Hall on Broadway.
She said federal experts, especially from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have been “embedded” in the city for weeks, steering the city through a maze of regulation.
The Sheraton demolition represents the first fruit of those efforts. On Thursday, workers from Michigan-based Homrich Inc., knocked down a few ceremonial balcony railings on the first floor of the 17-story hotel. The actual hotel demolition is slated for October.
Officials said the bridge or walkway from the Hudson-Campbell Fitness Center to the hotel parking garage will be demolished July 25. From there, workers will tear down the parking garage and then the bridge over Broadway from the Sheraton. The hotel is last on the contractor’s schedule.
City Redevelopment Director Joseph Van Dyk said the demolition will allow officials “to reposition” the downtown and better attract traffic from the Indiana Toll Road’s Broadway exit.
The Redevelopment Commission paid Homrich $1.8 million for the job, financing the work with federal funding, tax increment finance funds, and the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority.
Freeman-Wilson blasted Homrich at her State of the City address in January, but she said problems have been ironed out. She said a Homrich subcontractor, charged with removing asbestos, failed to hire local residents. “We told them that was unacceptable,” she said.
Since then, graduates from the city’s Brownfields program have been hired along with other local workers.
Powers Construction was brought in as a subcontractor and Mike Shell, former city General Services director, is now the project manager. Freeman-Wilson said more local workers will be hired as the demolition begins.
Gary joined Flint, Michigan, and Rockford, Illinois, in the Strong Cities, Strong Communities program in January. The program, which now includes 22 cities, is designed to help challenged cities create jobs and opportunities for citizens.
Antonio Riley, regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, called the Sheraton a “symbol of blight” that stood in the way of new developments in Gary.
Riley said President Obama wants build a “ladder of opportunity” for citizens to move up. So far, he said $368 million in federal dollars has been allocated for the cities involved in the Strong Cities, Strong Communities program. No amount was given for Gary.
“The bottom line is the Obama administration is committed to revitalization of Gary to make it a safer community full of opportunities for its residents,” he said.