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Gary and Northwest Indiana ‘roll up their sleeves’ to reinvest in urban core

Photos by Karen Kring

U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.) fires up the crowd at the Gary and Region Investment Project launch event on Oct. 27, 2010.

The Gary and Region Investment Project (GRIP) – a regional initiative to reinvest in Northwest Indiana’s urban core, led by the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) and The Times Media Company – launched Oct. 27, 2010, with the “GRIP the Future” event, at the Genesis Center, in Gary, Ind. The event was both a resounding call to action and the first step in identifying a few key investments that the region can work together on to stabilize and transform its economy.

To that end, GRIP the Future brought together nearly 200 people who have a stake in reviving Northwest Indiana’s formerly industrialized communities, including community leaders, business leaders, and elected and appointed officials, such as U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind) (via videotaped message), U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky, (D-Ind), U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development Deputy Secretary Ron Sims, Special Assistant to the President for Urban Affairs Derek Douglas, and City of Gary Mayor Rudy Clay. Other attendees included representatives from social service organizations, educational and medical institutions, municipal leaders and staff from across Northwest Indiana, religious leaders, and local entrepreneurs.

Getting inspired

Rep. Visclosky fired up the audience by reciting a litany of existing regional strengths, in particular its proximity to Lake Michigan, interstate and state highways, passenger and freight rail lines, and Chicago. “I have hundreds of colleagues who would die to have these assets,” said Visclosky, “I hope we put to bed, and never talk about again, feeling sorry for ourselves because we live in Northwest Indiana.”

Mayor Clay acknowledged that while no other city, perhaps in the country, has been as scrutinized as Gary, “Gary cannot survive being an island, alone, by itself.” He urged the city and region to act cooperatively because “working together works. All we need to do is bring the dry bones together in the valley so the whole world can see we have one vision here."

Times Media Company Publisher Bill Masterson, who started The Times’ “One Region, One Vision” initiative from which the Gary and Region Investment Project emerged, said the time is right for action. He pointed to the number of local and national leaders gathered that day as proof that people are ready “to roll up their sleeves, get to work, and do something.”

Identifying models and investments

Suitably inspired, the participants at the Oct. 27 event helped shape GRIP by voting on projects and investments that can begin to transform the economy and quality of life in Gary and Northwest Indiana.

 

An attendee at GRIP the Future votes for the projects she thinks will do the most to transform Gary and Northwest Indiana.

An attendee at GRIP the Future votes for the projects she thinks will do the most to transform Gary and Northwest Indiana.

Photo by Karen Kring

During small table discussions, participants discussed their preferences for and concerns about potential projects, as well as what criteria should be used to select those projects.

The audience also heard from an impressive roster of speakers, including national philanthropic and community development experts who lent their experience, insights and best practices to help inform GRIP. (Speakers' presentations from GRIP the Future are available on MPC's web site.)

  • HUD Deputy Secretary Sims said, “Gary is a canvas,” and that an integrated and disciplined approached is required for the region to fulfill its immense potential. He urged Gary and the region to work from a blueprint, which would not only focus investments but also present a unified strategy. He focused on the importance of quality schools, both to the United States’ global competitiveness and to the health and attractiveness of local neighborhoods. Sims drew comparisons between the Obama Administration’s commitment to interagency collaboration and the need for cooperation within regions, noting that pollution, poverty, and crime don’t adhere to municipal borders – so neither should the solutions to these challenges.
  • Sandra Moore, president of St. Louis-based Urban Strategies, stressed the importance of a “comprehensive and strategic” approach to community revitalization. “A dream without a timeline is just a wish,” she said. Her organization’s work in New Orleans centers on community involvement in the planning process, particularly how investments will benefit residents.
  • Kim Burnett, a consultant with the Brookings Institution, told the audience, “You are the ones you have been waiting for.” Speaking of her experience working with the industrial towns in Northeast Ohio, Burnett said, “I know people who would kill to have this urban area.” She noted that by analyzing how new development will catalyze further investment and development, and by reinforcing existing assets that improve competitiveness, such as educational institutions and patents, Northwest Indiana can attract venture capital and young professionals who left for better job prospects in other regions.
  • MarySue Barrett, president of MPC, talked about MPC's history of bringing a broad range of stakeholders to the same table to reach consensus on policy and community development approaches that contribute to a more sustainable, competitive, equitable region. She emphasized Northwest Indiana's place as an important part of greater metropolitan Chicago, and pointed to the need to tap the region’s tremendous potential by building upon successful plans, including the Marquette Plan, which earned MPC's Burnham Award in 2007.
  • O’Merrial Butchee, director of the Gerald Lamkin Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center at Ivy Tech Community College, spoke about the need to change the region’s image, and that it must market itself as a corridor of innovation. She also urged local citizens to develop a new perspective. “Does it hurt enough yet?” she asked. “Do you really believe that Gary can rebound?”

Using keypad polling, the audience members votes on the projects and criteria they think have the greatest potential to transform the economy and quality of life in Gary and Northwest Indiana.

Participants agreed that economic impact, potential to improve communities, and feasability are key criteria that should be used to evaluate potentially transformative projects.

Of the many efforts currently on the books or underway, the following investments ranked highest for participants at GRIP the Future:

  • Gary/Chicago International Airport
  • Gary/East Chicago South Shore Redevelopment Plan
  • Gary Marquette Park Lakefront East
  • Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District transit-oriented development
  • University Park Plan
  • Broadway Corridor efforts in downtown and midtown Gary

Next steps for GRIP

The momentum from GRIP the Future already has helped paved the way for on-the-ground successes and opened new doors for additional support. On Oct. 28, the day after the GRIP launch, several key initiatives advanced: 

MPC is conducting additional outreach to gather input from a wider audience, including a survey that will solicit further feedback. This input will be used to evaluate high-priority projects to identify their benefits to cities and the region as a whole. With lead partners and communities, GRIP will then support the implementation of the two to three projects that demonstrate the most potential to catalyze redevelopment.

Sponsors

As many speakers and participants at GRIP the Future noted, it is only with commitment and strong partnerships that the Gary and Region Investment Project will be successful. MPC and The Times Media Company are grateful to the following businesses, foundations and institutions, whose sponsorship of GRIP the Future ensured that this initiative got off to a great start: 

BP
Gary SouthShore Railcats
Gary Jet Center
Indiana University Northwest
The John S. and James L. Knight Fund at the Legacy Foundation
Lee Companies
Legacy Fund (for its support of MPC's employer-assisted housing work in Northwest Indiana)
NIPSCO
Northwest Indiana Forum
Purdue University Calumet
Regional Development Authority
U.S. Steel
Valparaiso University

We appreciate their commitment and look forward to working with them and others as we work to transform Gary and the region. If you or your organization would like to support this work, please contact Joanna Trotter, at jtrotter@metroplanning.org. 

Read coverage of the event:

MPC research assistant Michael Piskur contributed to this article.

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