Gary’s demolition derby: 101 buildings down, 300 to go

December 21, 2010

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Gary Mayor Rudy Clay and U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh stand before a building set for demolition. (Photo by Scott Bort/Post-Tribune).

It’s not every day you see a sitting U.S. senator take a sledgehammer to a building, but that’s exactly what Evan Bayh did Monday on his last visit to Gary, Indiana, as a senator.

Like a kid hitting a piñata, Bayh gave four good swings at wooden planks of an old, burnt-out home on the city’s northeast side.

“There we go!” Bayh said as the sledgehammer struck the plank with force.

Bayh said he wants the structure to come down so neighborhood children could have a better environment to live in.

The house Bayh helped demolish represents the city’s 101st to come down, thanks in large part to more than $2 million HUD provided the city in recent months. Back in June 2009, Bayh had visited the same neighborhood with Ron Sims, Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The two toured abandoned houses and storefronts to see what more can the federal government do to turn around decades of disinvestment and decay. The answer they came up with, like so many times before in Gary’s history, was money.

“I was very touched to see those children growing in an environment like this. I was touched to see some of the homeowners trying to do the right thing but struggling because they were living next to abandoned properties,” Bayh said. “Those are the people we need to help.”

Gary officials hope the HUD money can be used to tear down up to 400 structures and, eventually, make way for new development.

Gary Mayor Rudy Clay said the city appreciates the efforts of Indiana’s outgoing senator.

“(Bayh) lit the spark to make all of this happen. He realized that Northwest Indiana can’t be all that it can be without Gary, Indiana, being all it can be,” Clay said.

The mayor said tearing down the abandoned structures reduces crime and makes it easier to attract new development.

“Gary’s going to become a better city because of this,” Clay said. 

Bayh’s visit to Gary caps off more action than just tearing down buildings in Gary. This was the Democrat’s last visit to Northwest Indiana before retiring from the U.S. Senate on Jan. 1. The visit comes just days after senators voted to repeal the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law, which barred gays from serving openly in the military. Bayh voted in favor of the repeal.

“My attitude was if somebody wants to give their life to this country and defend America, that’s good enough for me,” Bayh said. “Their personal life is their own. I think it’s a step in the right direction.”

Bayh said his relationship to the people of Northwest Indiana will not change because he’s leaving the Senate.

“I’ve come to Northwest Indiana since I was a little boy and that’s not going to change. I’m just going to be doing it in a different capacity,” Bayh said. “I love the people of Northwest Indiana and I’m going to be looking forward to that continuing for a long time.”

Republican Dan Coats will replace Bayh in the Senate.