USA TODAY write up about Gary, IN
It's a great write up about the revitalization of Gary, IN. Let the world know that real people do live in Gary and real people do care about Gary. The article was written by Aamer Madhani. It was copied and pasted from its original source on the USA TODAY website here.
GARY, Ind. — It might be telling of the complexity of this city's problems that the recent start of the demolition of Gary's tallest — and arguably most decrepit — building is being heralded by local leaders as one of the most significant signs of progress this community has seen in years.
But in this tough-luck city, tearing down the old Sheraton Hotel, an eyesore that had become a powerful symbol of this once great steel town's fall, is nothing short of a monumental achievement.
"It really symbolizes the best of times and worst of times for this city," says Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, who made demolishing the 14-floor structure a central part of her 2011 campaign to head this city. "When Gary was doing well, this was a central point. It was also a place that struggled as the city struggled."
Gary has been down so long the bottom might look like up. It wasn't always that way.
This is a city that grew up around U.S. Steel and gave the world Michael Jackson. It's a place that proudly touted itself as the "City of the Century." And it was the first big U.S. city to elect a black mayor, Richard Hatcher, in the late 1960s.
Since then, there have been a lot of dark days in Gary, and recent weeks have been among the hardest.
'HEINOUS' VIOLENCE IN MURDER CITY
Freeman-Wilson last month named a new police chief, days after the old chief stepped down as the city reckoned with what the mayor called "some of the most heinous murders seen in decades," a striking assessment for a city pinned with the ugly moniker of Murder Capital of the U.S. in the 1990s.
Her heightened concern about the city's violence was punctuated by last month's killing of veteran Gary police officer Jeffrey Westerfield — an incident that was followed by the gruesome stabbing murder of an 80-year-old woman and her 88-year-old husband and the slaying of a 41-year-old mechanic found dead in an auto repair shop.
Violent crime, while still a major irritant for this city, is actually down. Gary has recorded 26 homicides thus far this year, putting it on pace for fewer murders than last year's 54.
"The city of Gary isn't bad, and things can be different," says Crystal Fields, 43, a city resident who has spent most of her life here. "This used to be a place when I was growing up that if you were doing something wrong and your neighbor saw it they'd whup your (butt) and then call your mom and dad who would whup you again once you got home. That's what we got to get back to."
A DWINDLING POPULATION
The city's malaise parallels what other one-time industrial powerhouses such as Cleveland, Detroit and Newark have faced in recent decades as residents flee the cities and job opportunities dry up.
Gary has seen U.S. Steel — the city's biggest employer — shrink from a 25,000-person workforce in the 1960s to fewer than 5,000 workers today. The city's population stood at about 79,000 in 2012, down from 178,000 in 1960.
The dwindling population is starkly reflected in the 10,000 vacant homes spread over this sprawling city that's geographically the size of San Francisco but has less than 10% of the population. Earlier this summer, the city's school board voted to close six of the city's 17 schools, an unavoidable byproduct of the migration.
Despite the long list of issues facing Gary, Freeman-Wilson and others in her Cabinet insist the city's fortunes can – and will – change.
"We are the majority," Freeman-Wilson told residents at a recent community gathering in the city. "There are more good people in the city of Gary…than not. We're going to take back our city."
The push by Freeman-Wilson to revitalize this city has been fitful. But she and her staff point to some successes.
One of her primary goals has been to improve this city's appearance and image. Soon after coming to office, she forged a relationship with the University of Chicago, with some help from former Chicago mayor and current UofC distinguished fellow Richard Daley.
As a result of that friendship with Daley, University of Chicago students are cataloguing Gary's blight — no small task in a city of thousands of vacant homes and empty lots overrun with shoulder-high weeds and trash.
Freeman-Wilson also has won over residents by making a weekly ritual of cleaning up trash and mowing lawns at abandoned lots around town.
A Harvard-educated attorney, Freeman-Wilson made two unsuccessful runs for the city's highest office before finally winning in 2011. She has served as a municipal judge and as the Hoosier state's attorney general. But she insists she doesn't have any greater political ambition than leading her hometown.
"This is the job I plan to retire from," she says.
She met recently with residents to discuss initial plans for redevelopment and demolition of abandoned properties in several neighborhoods that will, in part, be funded through a White House program to assist distressed cities.
Sean O'Brien, a lead operator out of Toledo, Ohio, watches as workers remove an asbestos coating from the parking garage wall at the Sheraton Hotel site.(Photo: Alyssa L Schukar for USA TODAY)
Her most notable accomplishment to date may be following through on her campaign promise on demolishing the old Sheraton — an issue that had become a focal point of every mayoral campaign in this city over the last four decades.
It opened as a Holiday Inn in 1968, early in Hatcher's term and as white flight from the city began. The hotel, which neighbors City Hall, struggled financially from the outset and closed in 1972. It reopened in 1978 as a Sheraton franchise but didn't have better luck turning a profit.
Operations were scaled back over the years. Despite subsidies from the city to help keep the doors open, the hotel closed for good in 1984. The restaurant and lounge in the hotel complex closed the following year.
CAN GARY REBOUND?
Freeman-Wilson and her aides acknowledge that Gary can't return to the glory days as an industrial giant. But they are convinced the city can rebound by leveraging some of its existing assets, including the Gary/Chicago International Airport and the city's location on Lake Michigan.
"The first 100 years of this city was about the rise and fall of the steel mill," says Richard Leverett, the mayor's chief of staff. "We're pulling people in and saying let's re-imagine these neighborhoods. Let's look at our park assets, let's look at our lakefront assets. This city was built for 200,000 and now has far less. What does that mean for how our city should look in the future?"
Freeman-Wilson and her aides also have tried to sell the city as a place where entrepreneurs can get a start at rock-bottom prices.
One business owner drawn by the affordability of Gary is Drew Fox, a craft beer maker who opened 18th Street Brewery here late last year.
Fox, who has 14 employees, now is installing a canning operation, and his tap room's chef soon will open a bakery that will operate out of the brewery's space.
Fox, 42, says Gary has a long way to go in shedding its stigma. But he's convinced the city can be a great incubator for young entrepreneurs who have good ideas but not necessarily a lot of cash. At the same time, the city badly needs more people to take the plunge if it's going to rebound.
"This city will survive even if it's on one knee right now," Fox says. "But it's going to take people like myself and others to help this city rise. You're going to take your licks, but you have to be able to sustain and look forward to those better days. It's going to take some strong will and strong-minded people to forge ahead."