By: Giavonni Nickson
Executive Director of the Gary Redevelopment Commission, Joseph van Dyk resigned two days after Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson lost her reelection bid in the primary to Lake County Assessor Jerome Prince.
Freeman-Wilson said van Dyk’s last day was May 9, but he will stay on until September for the city’s Comprehensive Development Plan.
Van Dyk’s resignation represents a season of change as the city of Gary ushers in a new economic development leader.
Van Dyk began as an intern with the commission with a series of roles with increasing responsibility. He oversaw Gary’s economic development efforts, business incentives, and real estate acquisition.
Under Indiana State Law, the Redevelopment Commission is the official body that approves redevelopment policy, awards bids, pays contractors, and administers tax increment financing (TIF).
Van Dyk served not only as Executive Director of the Redevelopment Commission but also as Director of Planning and Zoning. Freeman-Wilson first appointed van Dyk Director of Zoning after she took office for her first term as mayor in 2012.
During his tenure, van Dyk managed economic development initiatives, such as the relocation of Alliance Steel to Gary from Bedford, Illinois.
Alliance Steel confirmed a $19.7 million investment to establish operations in Gary, purchasing and equipping a 250,000-square-foot facility at 2700 E. 5th Ave. ATCO-Gary Metal Technologies formerly occupied the site.
Alliance plans to have its new plant operating in Gary by January 2020. This move supports an economic revolution in the city, bringing 100 full-time jobs. The company plans to expand and create up to 35 additional high-wage jobs by 2023.
Van Dyk, who studied at the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative at Harvard University, led the Gary parcel survey and the Gary Counts initiative. As part of the effort, the University of Chicago helped the city survey more than 58,000 parcels as part of a data-driven approach to tackling blight.
Overseeing the city’s blight elimination program, including the historical Sheraton Hotel demolition project was one of van Dyk’s notable feats.
For over three decades, the vacant Sheraton Hotel loomed over City Hall in Gary. The Sheraton Hotel went from being the city’s tallest building, hailed as “the gateway to the city’s future” by former Mayor Richard Hatcher upon its opening in 1971, to later become a symbol of blight.
Van Dyk led the demolition charge with the two million dollar demolition cost covered by the federal government. His leadership with the Hardest Hit Fund program influenced the Gary Comprehensive Plan update.
In the fall of 2014, the City of Gary was awarded $6.6 million for demolition through the Hardest Hit Fund Blight Elimination Program, the largest award in the state of Indiana. These funds went toward the demolition of 365 vacant and abandoned homes with a $4.4 million award for the demolition of 102 more properties in 2018.
Van Dyk helped persuade private developers to bring a housing development to the Memorial Auditorium site downtown and was working to potentially bring a lakefront hotel or restaurant to Lake Street Beach in the Miller neighborhood.
“Joe has been an integral part of Team Gary for the past seven years,” stated Mayor Freeman-Wilson. “He has been extremely effective in managing a number of economic development initiatives. As he leaves the city to experience new opportunities, I know he will do well.”
Joe van Dyk’s resignation will leave no vacancy. Effective immediately, A.J. Bytnar, an Andrean High School and Ball State University alumnus who’s lived in Miller, will take over as the new Director of Redevelopment. Bytnar comes to Gary with ten years of experience in both the private and public sectors. He previously served in the economic development department in Fishers, Indiana; the real estate department of the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA), was City Planner for Hobart, Indiana and the Lake County Department of Planning; Director of Planning and Development for the city of Lowell and has worked in private development with Edward Rose and Sons.
Though van Dyk will leave the city to move closer to his family on the West Coast, he will work part-time through September to complete the City’s Comprehensive Plan update. To ensure a smooth leadership transition, van Dyk will help A.J. Bytnar get acclimated as the new Executive Director of the Gary Redevelopment Commission.