By Keith Chambers, Gary Crusader
Spring is here. More people are flocking to Michael Jackson’s boyhood home. The granite monument with the King of Pop doing the moonwalk is a real thriller to many. So is the warmer weather. Soon, summer will be here and the city’s landmarks, parks and attractions will be the destination of many residents. But in the corridors of the stylish Beaux Arts-style City Hall, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and other officials are targeting another group of people: tourists.
It’s a plan that’s been in the works for some time, but on Tuesday, March 28 the Common Council Finance Committee reviewed an ordinance that creates a $15,400 budget to promote walking tours. The budget’s final approval will happen when the full council meets on April 4.
Smeared in the media for years, Gary is a city that contains many hidden gems that many non-residents don’t know about. Like many urban cities, Gary has problems, but it also has historic downtown landmarks, interesting neighborhoods and places to see and be seen.
The tranquility of Marquette Park. The quaint downtown of the Miller Beach neighborhood. The elegant Gary Aquatorium and the natural beauty of the Indiana Dunes. The roar of the crowds at the Gary Steel Yard and of course, dazzling aerial stuntmen wowing thousands during the Gary Air Show.
These places and events have existed for years, but the city’s historic landmarks have been around the longest. However, for the first time under her leadership, Freeman-Wilson and her administration are making a concerted effort to entice tourists to step out and see its business district like a native.
While $15,400 is not much, it’s a start for city officials, whose faith may lead to something big. People are responding. Donations are coming. More than half of the money was donated by 83 individuals or groups between February 15 to March 14. People made their contributions through a website maintained by Patroncity.com. Because the fundraising effort reached a $7,500 minimum, the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority matched it with a $7,500 donation.
An ordinance is expected to be passed by the Gary Common Council on April 4 that will allow city officials to accept the donations into the city budget. The donations support the Gary Preservation Tour, which takes place in mid-June, according to Redevelopment Commission Deputy Director Jack Eskin. An open house event will be held in July. According to the proposed budget, $4,300 will be spent on cleanup, board up and site preparation. Approximately $1,000 will cover legal fees, $2,200 is allotted for signs. To promote and advertise the tourism effort, officials plan to spend $5,100 for advertising. Some $2,800 will be spent on event operations.
Stops on the tour have not been determined, officials are considering landmarks on Broadway, Gary’s main street. They include City Hall and Courthouse, the former Gary State Bank, the old post office and one-time Gary train station, which is generally not open to the public.
Officials have said the tourists would also consider sticking around the downtown area to enjoy events at the ArtHouse: A Social Kitchen, 411 E. 5th Ave., or a ballgame at another Gary landmark — the Gary Steel Yard baseball stadium.
Redevelopment Commission officials and AmeriCorps VISTA are working together on the specific details of what could be a two-hour-long walking tour of up to 10 sites in the downtown Gary area.
Eskin said that VISTA provided the Redevelopment Commission with two interns who have been instrumental in organizing the event and who may wind up being offered permanent jobs when their internships end in July.