The Crusader Newspaper Group

Gary’s State of City Address Set for Feb. 24

Gary Crusader staff report

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson will deliver her annual State of the City address at 11:30 a.m. on Feb. 24 at the Genesis Convention Center, 1 Genesis Plaza.

The mayor will once again outline progress in the city as she continues to work lifting Gary out of an economic decline that began years ago and worsened over the decades, including the Great Recession of 2008.

Freeman-Wilson’s speech is expected to focus on the growth of institutions operating in Gary neighborhoods, instead of large-scale projects that have shaped Gary/Chicago International Airport and other public spaces in years past.

Hospitals and institutions of higher learning continue to move forward with ambitious expansion plans that will promote Gary as a well-equipped city with great health and educational facilities.

At a meeting of the Gary Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 11, Freeman-Wilson gave a sneak preview of her message. During her speech, she said the city created smaller-scale projects that fed off larger projects at Indiana University Northwest (IUN) and Methodist Hospitals Northlake.

IUN’s $45 million Arts and Science building on Broadway is slated to open in mid-2017. The 126,300 sq. ft., three-story building will add more classroom space for students at both IUN and Ivy Tech Community College’s campus in Gary.

Methodist Hospitals’ Northlake Campus in Gary will soon open its outpatient behavioral health treatment facility. It will have an inpatient psychiatric unit and feature six beds for children between 13-17 years old; 16 beds for those 18-54; and 12 beds for people 55 and older.

The behavioral health facility became a reality after the federal government designated Gary as a city where there is a shortage of mental health providers. In a recent community survey, Methodist Hospitals identified mental health care as one of the greatest health needs in Gary and in nearby Merrillville.

Freeman-Wilson also cited the $30 million upgraded emergency room at Methodist Hospitals Northlake as a project that could benefit the city in some way. She said the projects fit in with the plans that Gary officials are trying to create in boosting the University Park neighborhood and the Glen Park community.

“We’re trying to leverage someone else’s dollars,” Freeman-Wilson said.

Last year, Gary officials turned the site that was once the Ivanhoe Gardens public housing complex into a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district that would entice businesses to move to the area by offering tax incentives.

City officials said developers have suggested that a warehouse with some 287,000 sq. ft. of space could be built on the site and result in a $16 million investment that could create up to $14 million of assessed property value for Gary’s tax base.

Gary continues to make gains in demolishing vacant structures as well. Last year, the city’s demolition program outperformed those in other Indiana communities. The achievement will help Gary secure a larger share of federal funds as the city continues to knock down empty structures.

By the end of 2015, the state had paid claims for the removal of 270 structures in Indiana through the Hardest Hit Fund Blight Elimination Program. More than a third of those were in Gary. Due to a time lag between demolitions and payment of claims, the actual number of structures removed is higher.

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