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Gary targets hopes, future on University Park

Tony Congress with C. Lee Constructitakes momentary break from operating an excavator lot where old Glen Park Bakery building

Tony Congress with C. Lee Construction takes a momentary break from operating an excavator in a lot where the old Glen Park Bakery building was demolished in the 3700 block of Broadway as part of the University Park project in Gary, Ind. Tuesday April 16, 2013. The multi-year project is in Phase I, demolition and site assembly. | Stephanie Dowell~Post-Tribune

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Updated: May 26, 2013 6:08AM



GARY — Brandon Cruz gazes out across Broadway to the yellow excavator that’s raking the soil where the Glen Park Bakery once stood.

The cakes, the doughnuts are long gone. The bakery closed its doors in 2001.

All Cruz remembers are the weeds.

“I put weed killer down the whole block,” said Cruz who’s operated We Buy Gold at 3720 Broadway since 2009. “Glen Park Bakery had a bunch of weeds in front of it. We cut them down.”

Now Cruz is awaiting a dramatic transformation of his ravaged business district. City officials call the proposed renaissance “University Park.”

The name should sound familiar. A decade ago, former mayor Scott King first proposed the University Park concept featuring an education corridor of development between Indiana University Northwest and Ivy Tech’s Gary campus. It was to be anchored by a Boys and Girls Club built with school and city money at Franklin Elementary.

But casino cash drew tight and grandiose plans faded. The Gary Community School Corp. has since closed Franklin school and trash dots its vacant grounds.

The comeback

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson is reviving the University Park plan and staking a good portion of the city’s dwindling budget toward it. It’s early to talk legacy, but Freeman-Wilson admits University Park would be the kick-starter for economic development so sorely needed.

“Yes, there is a great need, there are 10 other places we could have easily put dollars and seen a difference in the community,” she said. “I decided very early on, that it was important to leverage other relationships — like IUN.”

Freeman-Wilson said she wants the plan to impress one Hoosier who doesn’t live in Gary — state Sen. Luke Kenley, a Noblesville Republican who heads the powerful Senate appropriations committee. “He didn’t think the city wanted to make an investment,” Freeman-Wilson said of the area around IUN.

The city is following a 45-page, $113,000 master plan for University Park, released in February by The Community Builders Inc., a not-for-profit agency in Boston. The organization recently developed the Shops and Lofts at 47 in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood.

The footprint

University Park’s north-south footprint extends 7.5 square miles, from 33rd Avenue to Ridge Road and from Interstate 65 on the east to Grant Street on the west.

Department of Commerce Director Forest Hayes said the city harnessed federal dollars to demolish 60 structures within the footprint, and about 10 more will come down in coming weeks. The notorious Dena’s Pub, on the corner of 35th Avenue and Broadway and two nearby strip joints, the Pussy Cat Club and the Gentlemen’s Club, came down last month.

One plan, however, has already evaporated. The Gary Public Transit Corp. had been studying a plan to develop a transit center at the Dena’s site but the cash-strapped agency couldn’t fund it.

The vision

Rising from the debris, Freeman-Wilson envisions a transformation for Broadway to attract restaurants, offices and hotels along the interstate.

IUN and Ivy Tech have joined forces and money to propose a shared $55 million building on the east side of Broadway across from IUN. One wing would include a performing arts center to replace the demolished Tamarack Hall, destroyed by flooding. Ivy Tech’s wing would likely focus on health care careers.

Freeman-Wilson says University Park’s development should show reluctant state leaders that Gary is an ideal place for a trauma/teaching hospital.

“We believe Indiana University is the perfect footprint for a teaching hospital. There’s already a medical school,” she said referring to the Indiana University School of Medicine-Northwest. “I think they understand we’re losing millions of dollars to other states, especially to Illinois, because of our inability to adequately address trauma.”

Residential plans, too

University Park plans also call for a revitalized residential neighborhood, diversified with students, new families and senior citizens.

In the next month, Freeman-Wilson says she’ll kick off her “dollar house” program in Glen Park offering homes to people who qualify to rehab them and live in them. The city owns many of the abandoned housing stock in Glen Park.

Community Development Department Director Arlene Colvin said the city has purchased about 10 properties in Glen Park and will use federal Neighborhood Stability funds to develop the area.

Hayes says the demolition along Broadway has not gone unnoticed. “Developers are clamoring to look at some of these sites,” he said.

Next, Hayes said, the city needs to establish a tax increment finance district within the footprint to spur development.

Several years of planning still lie ahead. For now, Freeman-Wilson is quarterbacking the project from City Hall.

“The first step is bring buildings down,” says Freeman-Wilson. “When people have perception that you don’t care about your neighborhood, abandoned buildings become havens of criminal activity.

“This is the first step in creating a landscape for developers to come in and develop the city.”



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