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Gary chosen for national revitalization project

CENTIER BANK KICKED off the city’s revitalization efforts in downtown Gary after opening a branch in the historic Gary State Bank building in October. (Photo by Erick Johnson)

Program to help rejuvenate the city’s downtown

The National Main Street Center, a national organization known for helping transform towns across America, recently launched a new program to revitalize the downtowns of seven U.S. cities, including Gary.

The announcement was made on December 7 on the organization’s Facebook page.

Called the Main Street Refresh Demonstration Project, the program aims to restore big and small towns whose economies have been hit hard over the years. They include Philadelphia; Milledgeville, Georgia; Biloxi, Mississippi; Detroit, Michigan; Lexington, Kentucky; and Miami, Florida.

These cities will serve as demonstration sites where the organization will implement a fresh approach to revitalizing urban communities and preservation-based economic development. The program, which provides local leaders with 12 to 18 months of free organizational capacity building and hands-on technical assistance from national experts, is supported by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The program will be a boost to the city’s efforts to restore its downtown. In October, the historic Gary State Bank was reborn as business leaders opened the Centier Bank in October.

Plans are in the works for a data center and green space. Renowned artist Theaster Gates is planning ArtHouse: A Social Kitchen, which would host art and culinary training programs.

Momentum has been building in downtown Gary, and city’s efforts to revitalize its historic downtown just received a big boost.

“We are grateful to Knight Foundation and the National Trust for Historic Preservation for their generous support as we roll out a strengthened approach to commercial district revitalization,” said Patrice Frey, president and CEO of the National Main Street Center.

The center will provide 12 to 18 months of hands-on technical assistance, expert advice and organizational capacity building in Gary. The goal is to come up with a long-term strategy and ways to measure success.

The 35-year-old project aims to spark community involvement through citizen engagement. The program was launched as an alternative to urban renewal projects that razed historic buildings

Since 1980, the National Main Street Center has led the development of a national network of over 2,000 historic downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts. The program, called Main Street America is made up of passionate advocates, dedicated volunteers, influential stakeholders, and community organizers who work every day to turn the tide in their communities—catalyzing reinvestment, creating jobs, and fostering pride of place.

Commercial districts taking part in the Main Street program have spurred the rehabilitation of more than 246,000 buildings, and generated $59.6 billion in new investment, with a net gain of more than 502,728 new jobs, and over 115,000 new businesses. Every dollar a community uses to support its local Main Street program leverages an average of $18 in new investment, making Main Street one of the most successful economic development strategies in America.

“Providing people with spaces to connect and participate in neighborhood life is essential to creating the type of cities where people want to live and work,” said Carol Coletta, Knight Foundation vice president for community and national initiatives.

The program will help Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson put in place various efforts to revitalize the downtown. Plans include a new church, the reopening of the library on Fifth Street and the Gary Public Transportation Corp’s efforts to bring rapid transit bus services to Broadway.

Freeman-Wilson said the program will help the city to revitalize the neighborhoods of Northside, Aetna, Glen Ryan Park, Horace Mann and Emerson.

Freeman-Wilson said the city will take a “holistic approach” to rejuvenating the downtown area.

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