It’s not everybody who’s capable of looking at Gary and seeing something comparable to Cannes, the city on the French Riviera with luxury hotels and restaurants.
But that suggestion was among many offered Thursday by would-be developers who got a chance to present their ideas for the city to Gary municipal officials.
The Cannes suggestion came from Eileen Rhodes, of the East Lake Management and Development Corp., a Chicago firm that has started to acquire properties across Gary in hopes of being involved in their future development.
Rhodes said she sees a similarity between the French resort community and Gary’s Miller Beach neighborhood, located in the city’s northeast corner and at the southernmost tip of Lake Michigan.
However, Rhodes said Miller lacks the amenities that would allow it to fulfill its potential as being part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. “There’s not enough for (would-be tourists) to do,” she said.
“There are a few quality restaurants, but not enough to bring in lots of visitors,” she said. “We need to have amenities built so that a hotel in the neighborhood would be economically feasible.”
East Lake officials did not tout specific projects for Gary but pointed out work they had done in Chicago in a West Side medical district and also in the Bronzeville neighborhood on the South Side – hoping that such talk would appeal to Gary officials to give them a chance.
City officials also heard from seven other groups, including companies from Cleveland, suburban Washington, D.C., and New York, along with several firms from across the Chicago area and Merrillville-based Arsh Group – which has been involved with developing plans for the future of the University Park neighborhood between the Indiana University Northwest and Ivy Tech Community College campuses.
Economic Development Coordinator Bo Kemp said that city officials hope hearing from the developers gives them ideas for projects that can be built all across Gary, although he also said the city was not committing itself on Thursday to building any of the proposals.
Kemp said areas around Methodist Hospital, the South Shore Line‘s Miller station, and the airport were priority sites he’d like to see addressed.
Vance Kenney, who is involved with the redevelopment of the 504 Broadway building in downtown Gary that has been converted into office space, said that project is actually the beginning of redevelopment of the area of that stretches west to the hospital.
While Rhodes talked of the property her group has already purchased, including the old Dunes 12/20 bowling alley in the Miller neighborhood located near the South Shore train station. “We want to be involved with Gary, we’re waiting to see what you want developed in the area before we decide what to do so we can fit in with the community,” she said.
Although Redevelopment Commission Executive Director Joseph Van Dyk said that could backfire in that it means her group could be subjected to extra scrutiny from Gary officials.
“I drive by that bowling alley every day,” he said. “It doesn’t look great.”
Also addressing city officials was TaJuana Tang, a manager of Tandem Ventures in Chicago, who said that Gary should not underestimate the potential it has for development in the 21st century.
“Gary is rich, fertile ground for development to take place,” she said.
She also said that city officials would be thinking small if it focused its attention on job creation from construction of new projects, saying, “Constructions jobs are great, but we’re talking about opportunity for sustained development that will last for years.”
Gregory Tejeda is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.