Bismarck Hill

A conservation struggle is emerging in Michigan City, Indiana. Bismarck Hill, the city’s last remaining undeveloped dune, is eyed by developers and the parks department for a privately-operated, seasonal zip-line business.

Residents plan to speak on the issue at the city council meeting on Wednesday, 7 June, 2017.

The Michigan City Social Justice Group asked its followers to state reasons to preserve an undisturbed landscape. Responses note the ecological problems and limited economic benefit that private development would bring. The major regional environmental and conservation organizations have thus far failed to make a statement on this issue.

This sort of development seems to contradict the parks department’s natural restoration efforts undertaken earlier this spring. In March the department spoke of the “substantial benefits” to “native communities” such as “long-term reduced maintenance costs, carbon footprint reduction, improved soil stability, excess nutrient filtration, stormwater runoff reduction, aesthetic enhancement, and increased habitat diversity for insects, birds, amphibians and mammals.” All things that would be impacted or disrupted by this proposed business.

Maiaco In Gary Update – 24 Sept

A meeting held on 15 September at St Timothy, hosted by the Gary Downtown-Emerson Spotlight group was titled Understanding Maiaco and promised “some key City Department Heads” along with the Redevelopment Commission. Neither were fully achieved. Only the Gary Redevelopment Commission was present, and many from the audience of 60 went home confused, suspicious, or at the very least resigned to life in an aging city.

Gary Development director Joe Van Dyke opened with a brief explanation of Maiaco and his perception of Gary residents’ fears regarding privatized redevelopment and outside capital (skyrises?):


Here he is asked what the Maiaco agreement would mean for current Gary residents living in areas with high vacancies and empty lots:


Here he replies to a request for a clear, simple breakdown of what Maiaco is and how it operates:


And here a property owner from Aetna asks why current residents aren’t better engaged (a question long asked all over the city):

MaiaCo in Gary Update – 24 Aug

MaiaCo has announced the first three project areas where they plan to obtain and consolidate properties for redevelopment in Gary. From west to east they are:

  • The southern section of Black Oak, south of the Borman Expressway (I-80/94), between Chase and Burr Streets
  • The Broadway corridor between the Toll Road (I-90)
  • The Aetna neighborhood, south of US-20

Properties owned by the school board and housing authority will be exempt and will continue to fester for some time I imagine. The redevelopment director claims that no residents or businesses will be displaced.

Gary gadfly Jim Nowacki has filed a lawsuit in Lake Superior Court claiming collusion. This link from the NWI Gazette features his injunction and a copy of the city’s Request for Proposals from May 2016.

According to the NWI Times:

“[Nowacki] said employees and agents of the city provided information for MaiaCo that was not available to other bidders prior to the bids being submitted. Nowacki also contends that MaiaCo’s proposal did not contain some of the information sought in the request for proposals.”

Maiaco’s president took a dig on Nowacki, saying he was “not surprised someone who owns more than 300 tax-delinquent properties would have issues with what the GRC (Gary Redevelopment Commission) is doing to … eliminate blight … and transform Gary. What he should do, instead of filing a lawsuit, is pay his back taxes.”

Nowacki countered that he is legally challenging what he says are unfairly high assessment rates.

The NWI Gazette noted that former KFW insider BR Lane was seen in town. Could she be tapped for MaiaCo’s ‘community liason’ job?

THE YUPPIES ARE COMING! And The Region I knew is dying. While Gary is not discussed except as a transit reference look for more of this neocolonistic attitude to creep in from Chicago.

Gary Designated Project Areas

This morning I received a 6 page PDF entitled “Exhibit B – Designated Project Areas” from a colleague. While no party is attributed on the document the language is that used by Maiaco representatives and their cronies in Gary, the clearest indication yet of which parts of Gary the city plans to hand over to the Chicago-based company for private redevelopment.

Not surprisingly the Broadway corridor in downtown (DPA 1) and Midtown (DPAs 4-6) factors prominently. The area in DPAs 4-5 never recovered from urban renewal projects schemes in the 1950s. The entire area south of 25th Avenue (“The 2-5” – DPA 6) is marked for redevelopment.

The neighborhood east of Ambridge is marked in DPA 2, and the eastern half of the Emerson neighborhood is marked in DPA 3.

On Gary’s far west side, DPA 8 marks the southern end of Black Oak.

On Gary’s far east side, DPA 9-A marks the entire Aetna neighborhood. DPA 9-B marks a small diamond-shaped area between downtown Miller and the Glen Ryan neighborhood. This area includes playground manufacturer Kidstuff and CARGO, the Calumet Artist Residency Gallery + Orchard.

DPA 7 is missing.

The Flaws in Joe Van Dyk’s Plan

by Gary Free Press
28 July 2016

[ed. note – Joe Van Dyk is the Gary Redevelopment Commission Executive Director]

So he stated over and over that every year there are 12,000 Gary properties on the tax sale. He repeatedly said that one in every five properties is on the tax sale every year.

So here’s a little math:

In total, there are approximately 55,000 parcels that comprise Gary. To start with, the Lake County Auditor lists around 17,000 in a tax-exempt status. (a great percentage of this 17,000 number are owned by some government entity, mostly some entity of the City of Gary. Also, the City of Gary has been acquiring 300-500 parcels per year through various methods, so this 17,000 number is certainly higher by now as the information from the Auditor’s office was received over 5 years ago.) So this leaves 38,000 to comprise Gary’s tax base.
So if as Mr. Van Dyk claims there are 12,000 Gary parcels on the tax sale every year, then instead of one in every five parcels that comprise Gary’s tax base being in tax delinquent status, it is more like one in every three parcels!

So what is Mr. Van Dyk’s solution? What is the MaiaCo plan? What is the Freeman-Wilson Administration’s master plan? To in its first year acquire 5000 more parcels and shift them to a tax-exempt status–indefinitely!
If MaiaCo does what they say in their proposal and acquires 5000 more parcels, then the total number of parcels in the city in a tax-exempt status will soar to 22,000. And surely they plan to continue acquiring in their second, third, fourth years and so on. But for now, let’s just concentrate on the numbers they stated in their proposal, the 5000. So then, out of the 55,000 total parcels, 22,000 will be in a tax-exempt status–not tax delinquent, tax-exempt–with no possible chance of producing taxes.

So assuming the 5000 will lower the 12,000 from the tax sale number to 7000 (unless tax default continues to climb) the number of properties which will comprise the city’s tax base will be around 26,000. The number of parcels in the city which will not be contributing to the city’s tax base will be about 29,000.

So what he does not tell you is that his plan–the MaiaCo plan, the Daley plan–depends on eviscerating an already severely depleted tax base. And what he doesn’t say outright, but certainly can easily be gleaned from anyone listening to one of his dog and pony shows is that this “plan” will take many years to bear fruit. In fact, he implies that it may take ten years or more to come to pass. (they even say that part of the plan will involve planting trees on vacant lots to be harvested once they mature 15 years down the road)

So as his team voraciously acquires property from the private sector, and as they do, instantly transfer it to a tax-exempt status, the burden shifts to the remaining taxpayers to shoulder the burden of costs to operate the city. So in numbers, less than half of the owners of property will be paying the freight for the more than half that pays nothing whatsoever–nor is required to.

So gutting the city’s tax base is not just some unintended consequence, it is the key component of their plan. And they don’t see any problem with it. They don’t worry about not being able to provide the services residents desperately need to survive. They could literally not care less about that. If they did, the city would not look the way it does. The pools would be open. The parks would be usable. The police cars wouldn’t be falling apart. The fire trucks wouldn’t be running on bald tires. The sewers wouldn’t be collapsing from one end of the city to the other. The sidewalks would be walkable. The streets would not be crumbling. The streetlights wouldn’t be burned out or knocked down. In short, if they cared a bit about the residents of the city, it would not be disintegrating before everyone’s eyes.

So this “innovative” proposal to further destroy the city’s anemic tax base has no plan contained within it to provide these sorely needed services. Nowhere have they even been mentioned. How are Gary’s residents supposed to live while this plan takes shape? And what if it doesn’t take shape? What if it fails? What if it turns out to just be another scam like GUEA was? After all, it is really just a grown-up version of the GUEA plan. (If anyone doesn’t not remember how that turned out, take a stroll through the Emerson neighborhood!) It was the same thing: aggressive property acquisition; promised redevelopment; all the same buzzwords; but what did we get? A thoroughly destroyed neighborhood with massive blight and abandonment. And 15 years after the implementation of the GUEA plan in Emerson, it is virtually a ghost town. Occupancy of that neighborhood is probably down to 25% (When GUEA stated their “plan” it was approximately 75% occupied.)

But while this administration knows full well about how flawed their plan is, they will attempt to spoon-feed everyone the same pap about development this and development that; but what they won’t tell you is that even if they were able to attract some development, any new development of any scale will be requesting a tax abatement. And in most every case a large development would be eligible to receive one; and anyone that has been watching city council meetings knows, is that the city council hands these out like penny candy. Typical tax abatements are for 10 years, meaning they increase 10% per year until they pay 100%. In effect, the petitioner gets 5 years tax free over the course of the tax abatement.

This is not an innovate solution. This is not creative thinking outside the box. This is the resurrection of a plan that has already failed miserably.

An innovative solution would include detailed plans on how to rebuild the city’s withered tax base. And it should not require its further destruction by the city!

Any plan should be able to tell residents how they will be provided for while Joe Van Dyk and Daley and his team work their magic. Being told everything will be all right and not to worry does not count as a plan.

Worry people! This horribly flawed plan puts the nail in the coffin. But that’s really what the goal is. The more unlivable the city is, the more abandonment; the more foreclosures; the more tax defaults; the more prey for MaiaCo to swoop down on.

Because their plan revolves entirely around property acquisition. If any development happens to occur, it is a byproduct. If they really had developers on the hook, why don’t they march them in now? Why don’t these developers just acquire the property themselves? Wouldn’t it be faster and easier to just buy it from the people that own it now? Or will these developers only come if MaiaCo is in control of everything?
More than anything, Joe Van Dyk’s sideshow leaves everyone with questions. But he has no real answers. And it is hard not to miss the irony of listening to him drone on about how to redevelop the city when he, has never developed anything in his life. He has never even been directly involved in any development. To him, demolition is development. To him, government agencies are development partners.

His plan leads residents not just down some bumpy road on their way to salvation, it leads residents on a road straight to perdition.

And finally, Daley should be ashamed of himself. He came to Gary, according to Freeman-Wilson, at her request. He came under the guise of altruism. That he has a thing in his heart for the city. But now, it seems painfully obvious that he has been making plans to feather his own nest all along. And oh how all of those starry-eyed University of Chicago students got used to set this selfish plan into motion. There is no altruism here, more likely sheer avarice. This plan is not based on charity or compassion as we were earlier led to believe, profits alone are what is its driving force. This probably will not come as a huge to surprise to anyone.

So Gary citizens beware. Because one day you may wake up and the city you now call home may no longer feel like home.

The MaiaCo Contract: A Neo-Colonial Nightmare

by Ruth Needleman
1 August 2016

[ed. note – the parenthetical citations refer to page numbers on the MaiaCo contract, which we will publish when we obtain a digital copy.]

This is an introduction to the MaiaCo contract. To begin with, MaiaCo will be assuming major responsibilities for the development of large areas of Gary. In fact, think of MaiaCo as our new private corporate Mayor and Redevelopment Commission in charge of deciding and implementing Gary’s future development.

The City will reimburse MaiaCo for every penny and minute it spends (100%) and then will give MaiaCo 65% of any income from land leases or sales to third parties, whether or not MaiaCo directly arranges the transaction, if it occurs within a “Designated Project Area.” The word “profit” does not appear anywhere. The new term is “Transaction Proceeds.” The “Designated Project Areas” will be mapped out over time, although within 30 days, the GRC and MaiaCo will “prepare an annual plan outlining the key strategic priorities, assignment of responsibilities and projected delivery of Resources.” Resources means time, work, materials and money committed to the project. It will be like paying for a private shadow government.

Once an area is designated, MaiaCo will take over all lands belonging to the GRC, and will have the GRC acquire all lands available through tax sales or otherwise. MaiaCo will bundle and sell or lease areas acquired to third parties for development. MaiaCo selects and oversees the third party developers, but it is not so clear who oversees MaiaCo.

How much community participation? Basically not much, unless you are considered to be a major stakeholder. [“ensure active participation by key stakeholders.”] (1) At our expense, MaiaCo will hire a Gary resident to open an office in the City, provide quarterly reports, and show up at selected public and private meetings. MaiaCo will produce a community involvement plan, which will enable MaiaCo to participate in any community initiative within the Redevelopment Area. This guarantees MaiaCo involvement in all economic activities in the Area; it does not guarantee the community itself any degree of participation. (13)

How about local hiring? The Contract only provides for the possible hiring of local businesses, contractors and subcontractors, but there are exemptions galore. For example, any business already working with MaiaCo will not have to meet any requirements for local hiring. Not MaiaCo but its contracted businesses will have to document efforts to hire locally. “Local” means Gary first, then East Chicago and Hammond, but “local” also means “businesses with a significant pre-existing presence in the Northwest Indiana region.” (3) So even though MiaiCo is “brand new,” local businesses have to already have an established record.

In addition, MaiaCo “may elect to engage a non Local contractor, despite the availability of a Local option, should MiaiCo reasonably determine that the cost or quality of the services to be delivered justify such a decision.” (4) MaiaCo gets to decide on a case by case basis.

Its contractors have to document efforts to hire local businesses to show “a good faith effort.” We all know what a good faith effort is! The contract includes percentage goals (20% local minority, disadvantaged, veteran businesses and 5% women-owned businesses), but not requirements.

Section 2 of the Contract outlines all the “Resources” that Maiaco will provide, everything from a new zoning plan to detailed architectural planning services, legal advice, infrastructure recommendations, preparation of documents, purchase and maintenance of lands and so on. MaiaCo will even assist and advise the GRC on any sale of property to any bidders, and be paid for it. Their only obligation to local hiring: “MaiaCo will be expected to take those commercially reasonable actions as agreed to by the parties in assisting and encouraging third party developers to achieving participation of local businesses.” (12)

Do we know who is part of MaiaCo? The materials identified only top officers, all white men, not one from Gary. But who are MaiaCo’s “affiliates, partners, joint venture partners, directors, shareholders, members, managers, officers, agents, attorneys, employees, mortgagees, successors and assigns and their respective partners…etc.”

When do we find out who will be taking our money, who will be benefitting from this Contract? Usually when a major RFP like this gets only one acceptable bid, the RFP goes out again. But this contract was rigged way ahead of time.

The MaiaCo principals all claim to have “proven and longstanding commitment to the City.” When will we see a list of all the projects in which people from MaiaCo have “successfully worked with the GRC and the City of Gary”?

What is missing is oversight, accountability and transparency. Without an outside Community Enforcement Mechanism, Gary will become the colonial creation of neo-liberal big money Chicago interests. A suburb of Chicago??? Will the history, traditions, culture and creations of Gary people be stripped away, replaced by gentrified housing and commercial interests unappealing to Chicago? Will the people of Gary, called in this document “legacy residents,” be pushed aside and sent packing? Gary has turned over the reigns of the City to a Mayor and his ilk who drove 65,000 African Americans out of Chicago to make way for “redevelopment.”

Gary 4.0

On Friday afternoon, 29 July 2016, the Gary Redevelopment Commission voted unanimously in favor of a scheme that will radically reshape the city. So much so we can declare a fourth major period in Gary’s history. Let us first re-examine the three previous periods:

1. The Magic City of Steel

Summer 1906: US Steel leveled a black oak savannah/dune and swale ecosystem between the hamlets of Clark and Pine to the northwest, Tolleston to the southwest, and Miller and Aetna to the east. They built the world’s largest (at-the-time) fully-integrated steel mill and a brand-new town for its workers. Actually they built only half a town, the First Subdivision, for its white ‘American’ workers. The immigrant Hunky and migrant Negro crowded into the raucous, unplanned Patch to the south. The corporation was quick to avoid the appearance of a company town but US Steel’s hegemony was in place from the start and remains so long after the corporation’s property agents, the Gary Land Company, had sold its last property and folded.

2. Gary’s Augustin Age

This term coined by historian Powell Moore describes Gary’s emergence from Indiana’s last frontier into a roaring industrial city. Gary’s downtown, formerly the First Subdivision, took shape with fine public buildings and a bustling commercial district. Neighborhoods of solid brick homes grew east, west, and south of downtown and the old Patch, now the Central District. But six decades of rapid growth through annexation and migration resulted in two Garys: one white, one Black. The Hunky became the ‘white ethnic’, won the right to a union, and built a new house in Glen Park, Tolleston, Brunswick, Miller, Aetna, or even the unincorporated areas beyond city limits. They segregated Gary’s Black residents to the increasingly-crowded Midtown. They created a Democratic political machine to maintain this system of oppression. And their failed attempts at urban renewal (or was it Negro removal?) would loom like a cold, dead, pale hand well into the 21st century.

3. End of the Century

The once-brash City of the Century held a quiet centennial. The mayor implored people to “come back home to Gary” but the plea was unheeded. The next census recorded the greatest population drop since the Reagan years, by 2010 the city had lost over half of its population in half a century. The indignity of all indignities, Gary was no longer even the largest city Northwest Indiana. The last third of the 20th century in Gary saw Glen Park attempt to secede. Downstate lawmakers bent the rules to create the town of Merrillville. Most of those with means left; first white flight, later Black follow. The Steel City became the Plywood City, the Magic City became the Murder Capital, the city of East Gary became Lake Station, and Gary became Scary Gary. It will be easy and tempting for the next historians to build narratives entirely around decline.

Those narratives will be key to the new period. They will help obscure the History inconvenient to Gary’s Neoliberal period and they will provide all the whitewashing necessary to make a privatization scheme between the city and MaiaCo seem justified. How did it come to this? What are the arguments for and against this scheme? What do Gary residents think about it? Stay tuned.