When the Boys & Girls Club of Northwest Indiana received Tolleston School from the Gary Community School Corp in 2011, its proposed use was to replace the John Will Anderson Club on Fifth Avenue in downtown Gary. The club would include services and activities for the entire community not just school age children.
The school district transferred the deed to the BGCNWI for only $100.00. Tolleston’s athletic fields were a big attraction since the Anderson Club didn’t have outdoor space.
Club leaders promised the fields would overflow with baseball, soccer and football teams. Inside, one wing of the building would house satellite offices of community health organizations like Edgewater Health, Community HealthNet, and Northwest Family Services. Then BGCNWI Executive Director Lincoln Ellis said discussions were being held with the Gary Public Library and Tradewinds to bring their services to the club.
The Anderson Club opened at Tolleston, 2700 W. 19th Avenue in November 2013 after $5.5 million was raised to demolish some of the school structures built before the 1950s, replace the roof, and rehab the interior.
Community organizations never occupied the wing and the sports teams never materialized.
Today, the Anderson Club and Tolleston are the center of attention for another revitalization plan, this time at Gary’s city hall. Mayor Jerome Prince has sponsored Ordinance C.P.O. 2022-57 Tolleston Opportunity Hub, a proposal to use $10 million of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds towards the renovation of the club.
Ten million dollars more each is coming from the Dean & Barbara White Family Foundation and an Indiana READI grant for a $30 million total investment.
The ordinance has been through several rounds of council hearings and all councilpersons favor the project.
The collaboration was spurred by Bill Hanna, executive director of the White Foundation who was on the statewide READI selection review committee. READI or Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative is a program administered by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation set up to distribute $500 million to projects and programs designed to catalyze economic growth.
The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Northwest Indiana, as it is now called, had put in a $2 million READI funding request for the Anderson club, Hanna told the Gary City Council Ways & Means Committee meeting at the end of July.
“When another White trustee and I saw the Tolleston site, we thought let’s do something that beats out the competition. The Crown Point YMCA and Methodist Health Systems were approached and agreed to bring in programs. Goodwill said they could provide adult education.”
Hanna added, “If we generate enough foot traffic during the day, say a thousand people, then we can do a phase two on the remainder of the project. I’m confident if we can get the first part done, we can raise another $10-12 million to do outdoor facilities as well.”
“This is the largest investment I can recall that has ever been targeted just for our residents,” Gary Mayor Jerome Prince said at last week’s city council meeting. City council president Bill Godwin said the ordinance calls for the use of one-eighth of the city’s total $80 million ARPA dollars.
Mayor Prince said, “I thank and congratulate the Gary Common Council for allocating the City of Gary’s $10 million match to the READI grant. Now, Gary can move forward with the Tolleston Hub Opportunity project, a game-changing economic and community development initiative.”
Another council vote will be held to approve the spending of the funds.