The GEO Group once again was sent packing last week when the Gary City Council unanimously rejected a proposal to build an $80 million detention center in the city.
By a 9-0 vote, the city council turned away GEO’s request to build a detention center just north of the Gary/Chicago International Airport.
While the decision capped weeks of protests, the move also reaffirmed public opinion that a detention center is not wanted in Gary. The decision also showed that Gary is a political force that’s not to be reckoned with, regardless of who supports an unpopular project.
With many vacant buildings still standing and unemployment still high, Gary is in dire need of economic development, but not at the city’s soul and image.
GEO said the prison would have included 800 beds on 24 acres across from Gary/Chicago International Airport. It was the same proposal that GEO pitched in November; only this one was dressed up with sweeter pitches to city and business leaders. In closed-door meetings GEO had promised to pay the Gary Economic Development Center an annual fee of $290,000 in addition to $100,000.
It was the old trick of dangling the carrot to woo supporters. To GEO officials, it was needed to push a proposal that was likely to be defeated after city leaders rejected the detention center the first time in November. To Gary residents, GEO’s defeat the second time was even sweeter with the corporation’s beefed up proposal to sway elected officials. No city leader voted in favor of this project and that says a lot. Whether officials genuinely opposed the project or were afraid to cast a yes vote, Gary’s residents won big.
LaVetta Sparks-Wade, D-6th, said a detention center would only further harm Gary’s public image.
“I disagree with the idea that we do not have the luxury of passing this up. I do not believe this is the best project that Gary can take up.”
Will GEO return again to see if the “third time’s a charm” aphorism would work? From the looks of their response after their proposal crushing defeat, the answer is probably not. No one likes a detention center in Gary and this message was clearly sent to GEO that night.
“We are disappointed by tonight’s vote. Our proposed facility would have been an $80 million investment in Gary, created hundreds of construction and full-time jobs, generated $1 million in new tax revenue without having to raise local property or business taxes, and created local contracting opportunities worth more than $1 million.”
Should GEO return, Gary residents will once again be ready for them.