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City Methodist wins Knight Cities Challenge

A proposal to change Gary’s crumbling, but historic City Methodist Church into a ‘ruins garden’ and wedding chapel has won the 2017 Knight Cities Challenge.

The announcement was made Tuesday, June 13 as the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced that 33 innovative projects will share $5 million as winners of the Knight Cities Challenge.

Each of the ideas center on helping cities attract and keep talented people, expand economic opportunities and create a culture of civic engagement. Submitted by Samuel Salvesen, a volunteer with the city’s redevelopment department, the ruins garden project will receive $163,333 for winning first place.

“The Knight Cities Challenge works to uncover the ideas, people and collaborations that help to advance deeper civic engagement and contribute to city success,” said Sam Gill, Knight Foundation vice president for communities and impact. “The winners join a network of civic innovators who are showing us the ways in which our cities can shape their futures to help solve pressing challenges and create new opportunities.”

Called the “Gary Ruins Garden,” the proposal aims to turn the crumbling church relic into an open air space with amphitheater for weddings and a reception site. Built in 1929, City Methodist was once the gracious site of Gary’s well-heeled worshippers before it was abandoned during the era of white flight. It closed in 1975 after the dwindling congregation refused to integrate with Blacks from another church. Today, the 93-year-old landmark is a symbol of neglect and sits abandoned on Sixth Avenue.

The proposal was one of three finalists in a competition that attracted more than 4,500 ideas to make the 26 communities where Knight invests more vibrant places to live and work.

Another proposal was called “Ballpark Plaza.” The idea aimed to turn a vacant lot across the street from the U.S. Steel Yard on 5th Avenue east of Broadway, into an outdoor entertainment center and farmer’s market. An additional proposal, “In Love with Gary, Indiana,” would establish the city as a unique and inexpensive urban wedding destination.

The 33 winners proposed a host of ideas, from providing a space for Philadelphians to develop city service solutions through a traveling city design lab; to further enlivening the Detroit waterfront by creating an inviting, urban beach along the city’s Atwater Street; from replacing an inoperative freeway in Akron with a lush forest and public space to connect two physically and socially isolated neighborhoods; to reimagining Columbia, South Carolina’s State House as a front porch for all.

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THE LONG VACANT East Side Fresh Meat and Produce grocery store in Glen Park was finally demolished after years of complaints. (Photo by Erick Johnson).

“These Knight Cities Challenge winners will help to create avenues for people to contribute to their community. Their ideas propose to bring together diverse residents, ensure talent thrives, and connect people to places, giving them a stake in city-building,” said George Abbott, Knight Foundation director for community and national initiatives.

Detroit and Philadelphia produced the most winners in this year’s competition. Detroit had six winners and Philadelphia had five.

The challenge opened in October 2016. Knight Foundation announced finalists in January.

Launched in 2014, the Knight Cities Challenge named a total of 69 winning ideas over its first and second years. Winners have created innovative solutions aimed at connecting people of all backgrounds and incomes, inviting people into active civic engagement and helping keep and attract talented people in their communities.

Notable winners include Philadelphia’s The Institute of Hip-Hop Entrepreneurship, which uses hip-hop to provide hands-on business training to members of low-income groups in the city; Re:Brand Detroit, which aims to spark reinvestment in Detroit’s neighborhoods through entrepreneurship; and Minimum Grid Maximum Impact, which improves neighborhood life by creating a network of bike and pedestrian connections between Midtown and Uptown in Columbus, Georgia.


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