HUD’s Castro pledges federal aid to revitalize Gary
By Carole Carlson firstname.lastname@example.org/302-0949 August 20, 2014 11:54AM
U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro tries on his new Gary T-shirt presented by Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson Wednesday at the Sheraton Hotel demolition site. | Carole Carlson~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 22, 2014 12:25PM
GARY — U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro stood in front of a yellow excavator moving debris Wednesday at the former Sheraton Hotel and pledged to use federal clout to revitalize the city.
Until July, when he was tapped by President Obama to head HUD, Castro served as mayor of San Antonio, Texas. That background provided him with first-hand knowledge of the obstacles cities face, he said.
“I see HUD as the department of opportunity ... making investments to create partnerships, create jobs and be a catalyst in the urban core,” he said.
Castro’s trip to Gary and to Chicago later in the day marked his first official visits to cities that benefit from HUD money.
HUD, through its Neighborhood Stabilization Program, kicked in $600,000 for the $1.77 million Sheraton demolition, expected to be completed by the end of October.
“The Sheraton has become a symbol of blight,” Castro said. “We will see it coming down for good.”
Gary recently became one of 22 cities in Obama’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities program that provides federal assistance for revitalization efforts.
Valerie Lee, who lives and works downtown, shared the podium with Castro and Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson.
“Every day, I open the blinds and see the Sheraton,” said Lee, who lives in the Dalton Arms Apartments on 5th Avenue. “It will be good to see it come down. ... I hope it will continue to be a spark for the people of Gary.”
Freeman-Wilson, who has yet to announce whether she’ll seek a second term, made the demolition of the Sheraton her chief priority when she took office in 2012.
She said Wednesday the old 17-story hotel that opened in the 1970s under the Richard G. Hatcher administration, would come down by the end of October. The hotel has been shuttered for more than 36 years.
“A lot of people ask why it’s significant and important to take the Sheraton down,” she said. “It signifies a new day in the city of Gary, Indiana, and No. 2, we want the citizens of this community to feel good when they come downtown.”
Castro said about a dozen HUD officials are embedded in Gary, working with city officials to create a plan of rebirth once demolition efforts are over.
Freeman-Wilson has targeted the city’s north side for redevelopment efforts. The areas include Horace Mann, downtown, Emerson, Aetna, Miller and Glen Ryan.
City officials want input from residents on their vision for their neighborhoods. A planning meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. Sept. 9 at the Miracle Temple Church of God in Christ, 1309 E. 13th Ave. in Aetna.