By Stephanie Gadlin, Special to the Gary Crusader
The Genesis Convention Center, the largest venue in Northwest Indiana, moved closer toward privatization after the Gary Redevelopment Commission (GRC) voted to hire a commercial real estate brokerage firm to help sell municipal-owned properties.
Last Wednesday, the commission voted unanimously to step up its efforts to find buyers for several city-owned properties, including the Sears, Roebuck & Co. building and the Gleason Park Golf Course, after awarding a no-bid contract to New York-based commercial real estate firm, NAI, Inc.
Joseph Van Dyke, executive director of the GRC, could not be reached for comment by Crusader deadline.
However, according to those with knowledge of the contract but who were not authorized to speak publicly, the commercial real estate investment firm has a history working with Gary city officials and will be compensated only after the properties are sold.
One property to be sold is the Sears building at 839 Broadway, home to several government agencies, including the GRC.
Also to be considered for sale is the 7,000-seat multipurpose Genesis Convention Center at 5th Avenue and Broadway. It includes a basketball arena, exhibit halls and meeting rooms. The convention center was a cornerstone of then-Mayor Richard Hatcher’s efforts to revitalize the local economy when it opened in 1981, the Crusader reported in March of this year.
With maintenance and operating costs, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said that the facility has become a “drain” on the city, during talks about the Genesis Center’s future. Demolishing the massive structure would be too expensive, officials argued, noting the best option is a private sale.
It has been noted that one out of five buildings in Gary is vacant; nearly two out of five buildings are considered blighted; about 42 percent of land is vacant and have no structure; 40 percent of land in Gary does not pay taxes; 20 percent of properties in Gary are ‘serially delinquent on taxes’ and about 12,000 properties are on tax deed sale.
While officials were not available at Crusader deadline, the mayor and other leaders have long been working to find ways to restore the City of the Century to its former glory. In 2017, the City announced an ambitious redevelopment plan called “Gary Rising,” led by African-American Chicago-based developer Elzie Higginbottom.
Other “Gary Rising” partners include Gateway Partners, Burlington Builders Inc., Princeton Technical Services, Tandem Ventures and GRC.
The plan called for infrastructure enhancements at the Lake Street Junction Area, Miller Transportation Oriented District, University Park, the Gary lakefront and Marquette Park. “Gary Rising sought to develop density and revitalize the surrounding neighborhoods on the North Side. The plan called for the creation of “livable centers,” improving green infrastructures and transit-oriented development noting at the time that its “existing assets include the basketball stadium, hospital and the convention center.”
Also in July 2017, GRC agreed to a public-private partnership with MaiaCo LLC., which will provide money and strategies to help the commission acquire and develop various parts of the city.
In the meantime, Gary residents, who remember a time when their town was a haven for jobs and opportunity, will have to wait and see if these strategies prove to be more than just throwing ideas to a wall to see what sticks.
Erick Johnson contributed to this story.