“If Gary goes, so does the Region. And so does the state,” she said.
Ahead of a planned tour of the Buffington Harbor area in the city’s far northwest corner, Freeman-Wilson appealed to members of the General Assembly’s Interim Study Committee on Commerce and Economic Development at the airport administration building.
Members of the committee — charged with researching ways to maximum underutilized economic resources in Gary — were in town for the tour.
The city’s Economic Development department has focused in recent years on bringing more industry into the Buffington Harbor area north of the airport, which includes Majestic Star Casino, while seeing the land directly across from the airport as appealing more to logistics operations, such as trucking or distribution businesses.
State Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, said the city has “long been neglected.”
“Imagine how well the county would be doing if the General Assembly invested more in Gary, in Northwest Indiana?” Randolph said.
State Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, said the city’s Economic Development department has partnered with a firm to conduct a feasibility study for the Buffington Harbor area to determine its “highest and best use” for developers.
Those findings will be reported on at the committee’s next meeting Oct. 15, he said.
“We’re not here asking for a handout, but a strategic partnership with the state to leverage resources … and turn this city around,” Melton said.
Barriers, such as needed environmental remediation, would be analyzed in the study, Freeman-Wilson said. About a third of land is either protected wetlands owned by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources or polluted Superfund sites that can’t be developed as they currently exist.
Moving the Majestic Star Casino to land at Interstate 80/94 would open up that harbor for development that could be financed through the Port Authority, the mayor said earlier this year.
The city could seek state assistance in the form of incentive packages through the Indiana Economic Development Corp. and remediation grants through the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
The city also recently reactivated its Port Authority board, designating the entire city as a port. The designation could mean sales tax savings on construction materials for developers who choose to build in Gary, officials said.
Committee chairman Bob Morris, R-Fort Wayne, said he is “fascinated” by the import/export potential due to the city’s proximity to Chicago.
State Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, said Wednesday’s meeting stressed the fact that “we need to move forward.”
“We need to move forward and make Gary part of the county’s economic engine again,” Niemeyer said.
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