Updated July 29, 2016
The sight of long abandoned storefronts, decaying sidewalks and rows of empty homes in Gary, Indiana could one day soon become a thing of the past.
The City of Gary’s Redevelopment Commission Friday approved an agreement with MaiaCo., a local firm recently created to bring investment to Gary. It could mean the demolition of thousands of abandoned structures in the city to make way for new development.
“We’re hoping to get development here,” said Commission President Kenya Jones. “We’re hoping that that development is going to bring employment opportunities, job opportunities, increase tax base and revitalize the city.”
The agreement calls for MaiaCo to invest up to $1 million in Gary every year for the next five years or the deal can be broken.
MaiaCo said it will help to secure funding to tear down structures near the city’s downtown along Broadway that have been long abandoned, don’t generate taxes, diminish property values and are a barrier in attracting new development.
The city said it will not give up control of the property. However, any profits generated from securing new developments such as housing, business, light industry and commercial, would be split, 20 percent to the city and 80 percent to MaiaCo.
At the Redevelopment Commission meeting on Friday, Gary resident Natalie Emmons worried about those low-income residents who may now lose their homes.
“These people are going to be displaced and not have proper representation,” Emmons said.
Gary resident Douglas Grimes said residents feel like they have been shut out of the process with both the Mayor’s office and City Council not saying much publicly about the proposal.
“We had to learn about this by rumor and innuendo, something that is going to impact our entire city,” Grimes said. “You need a new approach. An approach that includes the people. As it is now, we are about to be push out of here. The footprint of gentrification is solidly on the ground. And what is happening, there is no preparation for the people who are here to maintain their interest or their property in this city.”
The project is just the latest step in attempts to stem Gary’s long downturn.
Gary was founded more than a century ago by the chairman of U.S. Steel, Elbert H. Gary. A mostly European immigrant city for half a century, Gary flourished with new homes and a bustling downtown. Waves of southern Blacks arrived to Gary to work at U.S. Steel, which often caused racial tension.
At its heyday, Gary’s population reached nearly 180,000, not including the 40,000 that worked at U.S. Steel every day. But U.S. Steel began to layoff workers in the early 1960s, with white flight taking off.
Today, the city is shadow of its former self. It’s lost more than half of its peak population, with crime always a problem.
Joe van Dyk, head of the city’s Department of Redevelopment, said before Friday’s meeting that this is a unique opportunity for the city.
“I have never seen anything to this scale,” van Dyk said. “I have never seen anything with such opportunity. I have never seen such a creative way to go about it. And, I certainly haven’t seen anything that has the potential to bring in major companies.”
Some city officials estimate there are 8,000 to 12,000 abandoned properties in the city. That includes plots of land as small as a half acre. Van Dyk says there also 6,000 structures that need to be demolished.
Although the city has secured thousands of dollars from the federal government for demolition work, it isn’t enough to tackle each structure.
Eric Reaves, vice president of the Gary Redevelopment Commission, said MaiaCo will invest in the city with much needed cash.
Reaves said the biggest issue hurting Gary is that it does not have contiguous property to build on.
“We need to look outside of the box because for 60 years nothing has worked,” Reaves said. “Can we just sit and say no to everything? We can’t because we will be 20 years from now and the downward spiral will continue.”
MaiaCo boast former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley as an investor but the head of the company, Michael Reinhold, said Daley won’t benefit financially from the deal.
Reinhold said Daley wants to get involved because “It’s the right thing to do.”
“Mayor Daley has always been a friend to the residents to the city of Gary and he has proven that for decades,” Reinhold said. “This is a solution to a problem that the city has been grappling with for a long time. It was brought to our attention. The city said it would be great if somebody could support this.”
Reinhold said the company hopes to set up shop in Gary as soon as possible and hire staff to begin the work.