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Genesis Center under Gary city council investigation

Photo caption: SHANTA MACK, LEFT, and Bishop Norman Hairston, former Genesis Convention Center board members at the June 29th city council meeting.

$100,000 question: What to do with unused funds

Funds sitting in the bank from the closed Gary Genesis Convention Center could be used for a beautification initiative in the city’s downtown, but the city council is going slow on the proposal from the Prince Administration.

Council Pending Ordinance 2023-36 asks for the transfer of $102,672 in the Genesis Center Enterprise Fund, account 6609. The ordinance would transfer $14,782 to the Genesis Center Operating Fund, which has a negative balance.

The remainder, $87,889 is destined for the city’s Clean Up/Beautification Fund, account 2303.

Gary’s Comptroller Celita Green said the negative balance in the operating fund account arose because another city fund paid for a Genesis Center expense and that other fund has to be reimbursed.

Both Genesis Center accounts will close after the funds are transferred.

As it stands now, the council wants the administration to answer questions about the Genesis Center funds and has scheduled a July 17th hearing before the council’s Investigation Committee.

William Godwin, council president, outlined the issues when CPO 2023-36 was on the agenda at the June 29th council meeting. The council heard from former Genesis Center board members Shanta Mack and Bishop Norman Hairston.

First, Godwin said, is “… the legal status of the Genesis Center Board and whether or not it was properly dissolved. What I’m hearing is that it was not.”

The second issue, Godwin said, is “If the cleanup fund has been dormant and dissolved, then we’ll have to create an ordinance that has a new fund before we can put some money in it.”

“We need to determine whether or not we owe anybody. Who had in fact booked an event, paid fees? Who was repaid and who wasn’t,” he said.

The committee also wants to see the Genesis Center’s financial records. “Where are the books? We shouldn’t transfer any money if we can’t properly account for how we get to the number $102,672,” Godwin said.

Mack and Hairston described the final days of their board terms when the Genesis Center was abruptly closed in October 2020 and they were removed from the board.

Bishop Hairston was the board’s vice president. “We had to find out in the newspaper that it was closing,” Hairston said. “Not even a good month or two before, we were told ‘if you can run it and get it up and going more, we won’t bother it.’”

The facility was operating, with events being booked, said Mack, then the board’s president. “We’re not sure that all of the monetary obligations of the Genesis Center have been taken care of. There were events on the books that we’re not sure if they received their funds.” Mack said.

“There should have been an internal audit completed. The Genesis Center was a 501c3. So you know that you cannot just sell all the assets that were inside the building. It was total mismanagement. And that’s just an understatement,” Mack said.

“My understanding is members of the administration at that time came in and took records from the Genesis Center,” Mack said. “You’ll have to confirm that with those on staff at that time.”

Adam Hall, vice president of the Gary Redevelopment Commission told the council, “The funds would be beneficial for the Genesis Center, to make sure the roof stays intact and there’s security on the building.”

When the convention center closed, it and the vacant land in the former Ivanhoe Gardens Housing Development property became centerpieces in an economic development deal with the Gary Redevelopment Commission and Akyumen Industries.

The city announced in January 2021 the sale of the Genesis Center to Akyumen for $2.5 million. The Ivanhoe property was sold for $50,000. Six months later, the city sued Akyumen for failing to make the payments it promised. The city reclaimed the properties in 2022.

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