Gary takes steps to sell aging facility someday
Crusader Staff Report
For sale: Large facility with event rooms, basketball courts, and convention area large enough for 700 guest. Must sell as is.
The Genesis Convention Center, Gary’s aging facility may be on the market someday. The current owner, the City of Gary, wants to put together the best deal that would entice someone to buy it.
On March 20, the Gary Common Council began taking steps that they hope one day will help sell the Genesis Center that was built to revitalize Gary’s economy. Any buyers?
Gary officials want to sell the center to a firm that could manage it and bring more businesses to the city.
The convention center opened in 1982 under Mayor Richard Hatcher’s administration. With over 6,500 seats, Hatcher wanted the facility to attract major conventions to Gary as part of an ambitious downtown development plan that aimed to revitalize the city’s economy after many white residents fled the city as it became predominantly Black.
With maintenance and operating costs, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson in the past said the facility has become a “drain” on the city amid talks about the Genesis Center’s future. Demolishing the massive structure would be too expensive, but putting it up for sale may be the best option. One thing that stands in the way is something underneath the structure.
In evaluating its options, Gary officials discovered that the streets that run underneath the Genesis were never legally vacated when the structure was built over 40 years ago. Gary officials said there’s no accurate legal description of the structure that exists today.
However, at the March 20th meeting, the Gary Common Council voted 9-0 to establish an ordinance that would vacate Washington Street between 4th and 5th avenues.
“We’re talking about the space underneath the Genesis Center property,” Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said. “In order to sell or lease the land, we would need to prepare a proper legal description of the property.”
Council President Ronald Brewer said the move is the council’s first step in matters related to the Genesis Center property.
“We’ve only vacated the land, there is no sale of the center as of yet,” he said.
Last November, Gary officials during a council meeting discussed the future of the Genesis center. The discussion sparked a debate about the aging facility’s future—an ironic topic since the convention center was built over 40 years ago to revitalize Gary’s economy. Today, the facility’s operation and maintenance costs are becoming a strain on the city’s budget as Gary’s leaders struggle to pay for other services and needs in the city.
With lingering financial woes and rising maintenance costs, the future of the convention center came up during a city council meeting on Tuesday, where council members approved an ordinance that will redirect funds from the city’s budget to ensure the facility will be properly staffed this year.
During that discussion there were some ideas to reinvent the convention center to make it more profitable. Freeman-Wilson suggested that a portion of the facility could be converted into a future casino in Gary. Brewer said he wonders whether the Star Plaza in Merrillville is interested in operating a revised Genesis Center.
In 2017, the owners of the Star Plaza had closed the 39-year-old facility.
The Genesis Center was once a proud symbol of Black achievement that ushered in a new era in Gary’s history. Hatcher built the facility to boost the fortunes of the city’s business district that was decimated after white residents fled south of Gary during the rise of the Black political establishment in Gary.
During its 35-year history, the facility has hosted many important events. From 2000-08, the Gary Steelheads professional basketball team used the facility as their home court in the Continental Basketball Association (CBA). Thousands of fans from Lake, Porter and Jasper counties filled the center during the CBA All-Star Game in 2005.
For years, the Gary Chamber of Commerce used the facility to host its annual Lakeshore Classic. In 2013, thousands packed the facility during the funeral of former Gary Mayor Rudy Clay. Every year, the facility hosts the State of City Address. Currently, the facility offers event packages that include a catering service.