Empowered or Underpowered, Yet Still Kicking

September 25, 2011

The Times ran a series of articles in early 2011 on the Gary-East Chicago-Hammond Empowerment Zone that indicated the Empowerment Zone had a muted impact on the cities and the residents living in them.

While I will be the first to admit that trying to organize three communities, who in the past were diametrically opposed to any sort of regional collaboration, is difficult, the empowerment zone managed to not only survive, but to also thrive under difficult economic conditions.

For example, here are a number of projects that actually made a difference in the empowerment zone cities of Gary, East Chicago, and Hammond:

    • The Emerson Housing Project: Recognized by HUD as a very successful project for the city of Gary (and repaid their $3 million loan to the Empowerment Zone, and still kicking).

    • The County Market: Created more than 100 jobs within the zone, and was the first new grocery store opened in Gary in more than 35 years, and still kicking.

    • Dusty's Chicken: Created more than 75 jobs in downtown Gary, and still kicking.

    • North Harbor Project: Empowerment zone dollars provided more than $1 million in infrastructure improvements to this East Chicago project, resulting in more than 100 new housing units being developed, with 100 more in the process. Still kicking.

    • Riverview Apartments complex: Former Hammond apartment complex riddled with security issues, secured more than $800,000 for infrastructure improvements, and now has two new hotels, a new restaurant and new commercial space, planned to open on the site in 2012. Still kicking.

    • Gary Job Resource Center: Provides a ray of hope for Gary residents seeking local jobs. Still kicking.

    • Dalton Arms - the former Standard Liquor Building on Fifth Avenue has been converted into 57 new apartments, has a long waiting list of tenants and will have a grand opening in 2012. Still kicking.

    • Former Post-Tribune office: Currently the home of the empowerment zone offices and staff. The empowerment zone has remodeled this three-story facility, and plans call for it to become a small business incubator project, housing new small business start-ups in a great mid-town location on Broadway. Still kicking, with its great staff and director, Scott Upshaw.

    According to U.S. Rep Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., "The empowerment zone programs were intended to empower designated communities to create sustainable long-term economic development through the partnerships of public, private and nonprofit groups, and with the input of the communities' residents."

    Twelve years later, the empowerment zone staff can proudly say they have created a number of sustainable projects in the zone that without the zone would never have existed, and they are still kicking.

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