Framework Plan Revealed For Redevelopment Of Downtown Gary Indiana

View of downtown Gary Indiana via SB Friedman

Initial details have been revealed for a redevelopment of part of downtown Gary, Indiana centered around 1 Genesis Center Plaza. The multi-block development will demolish the long vacant convention center and repurpose multiple surface lots around it, bound by the I-90 to the north and the baseball stadium home to the Gary SouthShore RailCats. The new framework plan is being proposed by the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, Lake County Government, the city of Gary, and other smaller public and private entities.

First two phases (red) – subsequent phases (orange) of Gary redevelopment via Google Maps

Contributing to the greater Chicagoland area, Gary’s current population sits around 69,000 people after peaking in 1960 at nearly 178,000 with famous residents including Michael Jackson. Once one of the largest steel cities in the world with the Gary Works plant still reigning as the nation’s largest, the bright lights of multiple casinos now add to the flames of the mills in the Gary skyline. The move also joins the city’s efforts to expand the usage of Gary/Chicago International Airport against the continuously proposed Peotone airport.

Current view of downtown transit center via Google Maps

The seven-building redevelopment, which will encircle the existing City Hall and county courthouse, will require the eventual demolition of two gardens and the convention center with its large arena. However the first phase will include the replacement of the existing transit center on the northwestern extent of the project in exchange for a new multi-modal transit station, bringing a new parking garage and station for the South Shore Line connecting back to Chicago.

Current view of convention center arena via Google Maps

The second phase will begin with the demolition of the 7,000-seat arena that closed in 2013 and hosted Miss USA twice in the early 2000s, this will include its adjacent parking garage and surrounding grounds. In its place will be a new multi-story parking garage wrapped in residential and commercial on the ground floor, joining this will be a row of townhomes, a second U-shaped residential building, and some new office space next to the multi-modal station.

Rendering of masterplan via Hartford City News

Subsequent plans include the residential conversion of the Gary State Bank and four-additional mixed-use buildings centered around Broadway. The framework plan and funding is currently moving through both houses of the state’s legislature, with the city kicking off efforts to find a new home for a convention center this month as well. While funding isn’t fully secured, roughly $8 million a year will be provided by the state from the $18 million the recently opened Hard Rock Casino must pay a year starting in 2025.

At the moment no construction date or information has been revealed with the design needing to be further developed, however the plans are reminiscent of a similar redevelopment we covered for downtown Kenosha.

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14 Comments on "Framework Plan Revealed For Redevelopment Of Downtown Gary Indiana"

  1. good news! I was diverted through Gary a few weeks ago enroute to Chicago from the beach towns: there is a remaining core of good housing stock and potential to rebuild into a vital community.
    Clearly Pence didn’t have a vision for Northern Indiana’s revival. Perhaps the airport hub could bring some jobs back.

  2. I wish Gary would expand the runway and possibly add another one at Gary Chicago airport to increase the cargo capacity. Gary is in great position to expand shipping related jobs with the harbor, the airport, and the various freight train lines.

  3. Déjà vu all over again. There’s plenty of irony in this steel town. Remember, the Genesis Center was supposed to be the “genesis” of Gary’s rebirth. Why are they looking for a new home for the convention center? Didn’t that idea already fail fantastically? They’ve also gone down the paths of casinos and a downtown ballpark in the hopes of “build it and they will come” (they didn’t come). They still need to try an aquarium, a theater district, downtown pedestrian mall, street branding (banners), and a museum-of-something-nobody-cares-about to tick off all the boxes.

    Isn’t it time they just tried playing the cards they’ve been dealt? Gary is blessed with a great location on Lake Michigan with great access to Chicago. They’re in a low-tax state right next to a high-tax state. Clean up the crime and run the city with competence and plenty of private investment will come.

    • Um, in terms of “great location” have you seen what’s between downtown Gary and Lake Michigan? The steel mills that built the city are the cards that were dealt decades ago, but the belching fire and smoke a stone’s throw from the city center mean it’s going to take more than organic market-fueled growth to make anything positive happen here. There are some really cool buildings in downtown Gary and I hope this plan succeeds but I’m just not sure who wants to live, work, and play in the shadow of an active steel mill.

      • Truth Be Told | August 3, 2023 at 2:32 pm | Reply

        Waveland, John F. Kennedy once said, “Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought” and you exemplify this perfectly.

        I’ve been to Gary many times and have toured the mill. And it is a great location. Great for an airport, great for transportation infrastructure, great when compared to a high-tax state next door, great for multiplier effect jobs that result from a steel mill and great for fresh water.

        Also, Gary is large geographically. It has miles of shoreline that are not steel mill. Whiting, IN has built a successful downtown despite being right next to the far smellier BP Refinery.

        If the steel mill’s belching fire and smoke make organic growth impossible then wouldn’t that be even truer for shoddy government-sponsored development?

        • Your argument really lacks any understanding of modern society. There aren’t any more steel mill jobs coming (they’re baked in). Gary is rife with poverty, you can’t just say “clean up the crime” when so many citizens are living below the poverty line and only around 50% work. Yes, not all of Gary is next to the mill (and there are nice areas like Miller Beach) but we’re talking about downtown Gary here. It was more common to live near industry decades ago but given the known health hazards and post-apocalyptic aaesthetic nobody with the means to live elsewhere is going to be moving there anytime soon. Also, the airport currently has no passenger service! And Whiting? You’re using a refinery town with a total population of less than 5,000 as an example of an urban success story?

          I was not and am not arguing that the proposals aboce are destined for success, just that the only way downtown Gary has a chance of even marginal growth/rebirth is with serious help from outside forces. The city (and more specifically its downtown) was dealt cards that played well in middle of the 20th Century but it’s sitting on a losing hand. I take no pleasure in this but it’s a fact. There’s a reason a major publication named it the “Most Miserable City in America”.

          • Truth Be Told | August 4, 2023 at 9:43 am |

            Waveland, you’re what happens when a Nihilist takes a shot at urban planning. And your arguments lack cogency. You seem to argue that there’s just no hope for Gary so they shouldn’t even be trying—but then hedge and say that you’re not saying that they shouldn’t try. Stop being so mealy-mouthed.

            Gary does have plenty of cards. An underutilized airport on the edge of one of America’s largest metropolitan areas is a huge opportunity. Steel plants, rail lines, highways and waterways are huge opportunities at a time of record factory building in America. And despite your disbelief, lower taxes are a huge opportunity—or at least that’s what people who build factories and build businesses seem to think.

            The plan above won’t work. It didn’t work before and the reasons for it not working haven’t changed. Gary is not going to become Arlington Heights any time soon. I reiterate that the road to success here is to play the aces that they have instead of squandering money on a plan that doesn’t stand a chance.

  4. Joliet is like Gary. Both decent-sized cities have retained a base that’s been unwilling to move despite decades of decline but can’t get enough momentum to push forward.

    The high vs. low tax thing is a debate, but livability in IL vs. IN is far from being on the same playing field. I am glad Metra has been aggressive with expansion in NW IN. However, a decayed city in the shadow of a steel mill still doesn’t have the appeal the contemporary family in an urban location will settle for. The same goes for Michigan City and its power plant.

    Long Beach and New Buffalo are gorgeous areas but have an obvious absence of industry on their waterfronts.

    Anything to get Gary out of the ashes should be considered, but a lower cost of living will not guarantee success. The city needs to consider vibrancy, amenities, fun, and uniqueness. If the last of Gary’s historic structure can be saved in any way, make these community hubs and capitalize on their wonder from a time past.

    • Well said! There’s a reason higher-tax areas are often those with the best quality of living. Imagine someone moving their family from a leafy Chicago suburb to a renovated home on a burned-out block in the shadow of the Gary mill and saying “kids, we’re finally going to have the life we always wanted! Our taxes will finally be marginally lower!”

      The narrative of people “fleeing” population-stagnant states like Illinois and New York really retirees with the means to move to warmer weather states with lower taxes on retirement income. Others relocate from higher cost of living areas by necessity, not desire. But despite a few anecdotal cases here and there, few people in their right minds are moving from vibrant, desirable, and clean areas with robust services to areas that lack those qualities and leading happier lives just because they lost a few less dollars to the clutches of the taxman.

      • What a fantasy. Nobody said people were moving to Gary from a leafy suburb for cheaper taxes. But taxes definitely impact demographics, growth, and economics. People are decamping from Illinois for Sun Belt states and it ain’t because of the weather. If you think that it’s just anecdotal then you’re JB Pritzker. And who gets “robust services” for their high tax dollars? I live in Chicago where taxes are high and we have poor policing, terrible schools, streets in disrepair, and awful parks. Read a book. Then read a newspaper.

  5. Can someone explain the Joliet comparison to Gary? Besides them both being formerly prominent steel towns, comparing them seems off. How has Joliet suffered from decades of decline? It’s grown from the ninth largest city in Illinois to the third largest city within the last 30 years or so. It’s projected to eventually become the second largest city after Chicago. Older areas of the town benefit from public and private investment which has spurred new commercial development. This includes downtown as well as retail corridors such as Jefferson St. Gary is an historic town with great potential but coupling Gary and Joliet as downtrodden towns is a bit odd.

    • I grew up in Lockport, and my gosh is Joliet a dump, especially on the Eastern half. When the Silver Cross moved, an uptick in seedyness followed. The old drive-in on Route 6 stood decayed for decades until it collapsed a few years ago. Briggs has tried and tried again to pick up, but still remains a mess. The area near the old Joliet Prsion is riddled with drugs and crime/gang action. There’s really not much to do downtown as well. The 66 Museum is fun, and stuff is pretty consistent at the theater, but when no event is being held downtown, no one really wants to hang. And with the occasion ditching, that’s just another thing gone. I’m glad the Harris is moving, but still.

      The new train station plan combined with the new courthouse has been helping the Southern flank, but it’s not a city I want to walk alone at night.

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