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Indiana City's Bad Luck Takes Another Spin
The New York Times ^ | November 30, 2003 | MONICA DAVEY

Posted on 11/30/2003 8:01:51 AM PST by sarcasm

GARY, Ind., Nov. 26 — This city, with its sputtering smokestacks that line Lake Michigan and its shuttered, boarded, barred downtown, has tried everything to save itself — a theme park, a beauty pageant, murals, baseball, basketball, gambling.

Then this summer, the city's most famous son came home for the first time in forever, stopping by his childhood house, which was not that much bigger than the black limousine he rode up in.

He had an idea to help his struggling hometown build a performing arts center, where actors, dancers and musicians would draw paying crowds and where students would perfect their arts — a Juilliard, he told city officials, in Indiana. And when the city's lawyer asked what he had in mind, a skyscraping building or a broad, sprawling campus, he gave the best answer — both.

Perhaps this, at last, could help save downtown Gary: The Michael J. Jackson Performing Arts Center.

Just five months later, though, the plans appear murky. Representatives for the city and for Mr. Jackson say they remain fully committed to the notion of a center, but people who live here say they know that Mr. Jackson may be too busy fending off criminal charges to worry about resuscitating Gary.

Truth is, even before Mr. Jackson's legal troubles, many here did not really expect that the center would ever be built. In Gary, where so many plans have come along, it is hard to stake much on another revival plan.

"Oh sure, it'd be nice," said Christine Equihua, who has spent all of her 40 years in this city and who says she loves it dearly, despite the crime and unemployment, for the reason other people adore other places — it is where she is from.

"A performance center would be real nice," Ms. Equihua went on. "But not in Gary. It won't happen in Gary. Stuff like that never does."

Along Broadway, the wide, main thoroughfare through downtown, artists have painted murals on the boards that cover abandoned storefronts — just one in the long list of ways Gary has tried to spruce up its sagging image. In paint, Gary can be what it wishes it were.

Across the front of a former furniture store is a scene that might have come from a gleaming showroom: a couch, a stool, a table with a chess game. The boards on an old jewelry shop show long jewel cases and a giant diamond ring. And painted on the shuttered Palace Theater is a scene from some elegant memory: a ticket seller in a bow tie and a crowd of customers, some in slinky gowns, milling in a lobby.

Across the street on a recent afternoon, Clarence Ford surveyed the place and thought back four decades, when he watched cowboy movies and cartoons at the Palace and bought ice cream from vendors who wandered the plush rows.

"People just didn't know how to live together, though," Mr. Ford said. Created as a steel mill city in 1906, Gary fell on hard times in the 1960's. Richard G. Hatcher, one of the nation's first black mayors of a major city, won election and white flight swept Gary. The mill jobs shrunk.

"To me, this isn't really a downtown anymore at all," Mr. Ford said. "For a downtown, you have to have stores."

If stores would not come, city leaders lately have tried new measures to bring Gary back: casino gambling, a Continental Basketball Association team called the Steelheads, and a minor league baseball team called the RailCats, who played last spring in a new $45 million stadium downtown, United States Steel Yard.

Though some doubters have scoffed at the price of the stadium, claiming that the cash might have been better spent on more police protection, drug abuse treatment or job-training programs, Mayor Scott L. King said the baseball team lured 140,000 people to Gary last season, and that the basketball team would likely attract 100,000 this winter.

"It's a difficult economic puzzle, but we're starting to see some positive results," Mayor King said. "It used to be that people would laugh at you — or worse — if you said you were going to downtown Gary on a Friday night."

The city also brought the Miss USA pageant here, for a time anyway. Though a huge banner for the 2002 pageant is still on the side of a boarded-up Sheraton Hotel, down the street from City Hall, the pageant is gone. Gary passed on being host for another year after Mayor King decided that the bill was too high.

Still, Mayor King said, the attention the city received in the two pageant years had given Gary, which has long struggled with a high homicide rate, a more positive image.

"People were hearing the name Gary without the phrase `ax murderer' behind it," he said.

Mayor King said he had been pondering the notion of a performing arts center since taking office, but the notion was jump-started by Mr. Jackson's decision to put his name, energy and fund-raising abilities behind it.

In June, Mr. Jackson returned to Gary for the first time in decades. He had lived here until he was 11. As the Jackson 5 took off, the family left the steel city.

Mr. Jackson has a complicated relationship with his hometown. He is a legend, whose image is even on the murals on the boarded-up stores downtown. But he has angered some by seeming to confirm all the cruel things outsiders say about the place. "A lot of people say he got big and turned his back on Gary," said Donte Whittington, who lives here.

All seemed forgiven, though, when he returned in June and rode to City Hall, where Mayor King presented him with a key to the city and they announced their mutual plans for downtown. Though a memorandum of understanding for the Michael J. Jackson Performing Arts Center was signed, plans were still in an early phase. There was no price tag, no opening date.

The idea, said Jewell Harris Jr., a lawyer from Gary who has represented the city in the meetings since the June announcement, was that the city would supply the land and Mr. Jackson would help raise the money, through his name and celebrity connections. It was unclear whether Mr. Jackson, whose financial situation is shaky, might also supply some money of his own.

"He was so excited about this project," said Mr. Harris, who met with Mr. Jackson four months ago in Miami as the two parties began preparing to establish a foundation to oversee the plans. "He wanted the school part of it to rival any school in the country. I knew that he was serious when he said he even would want to come teach a class from time to time."

Last week, a spokesman for Mr. Jackson said that he was now concerned with defending himself against accusations that he molested a 12-year-old boy, but that there was no reason to suspect that the Gary project would not proceed, once "other things kind of get taken care of."

"He is committed to Gary, and he is committed to the performing arts center," the spokesman, Stuart Backerman, said. "His name and his involvement would be the basis for raising the funds."

City leaders, meanwhile, said they hoped Mr. Jackson would stick with the project, but that its future did not depend on him alone. "This idea has been a vision for the city even before Michael Jackson," said LaLosa Burns, the spokeswoman for Mayor King, "and it will be something that the city will continue to pursue."

Perhaps, but not everyone believes that this grand vision will ever actually be realized.

Janine P. Bray, 51, lives in a small, neat home with an American flag out front, just across the way from the simple one-story house where Mr. Jackson once lived.

The notion of a big arts center is sweet, Ms. Bray said, but she smiles politely and laughs a bit when asked whether she believes it will happen. "No, no, he's spending too much for his legal protection to worry about us so much," she said.

Ms. Bray has seen her share of plans for Gary come and go.

In the mid-1990's, there was another mayor and another idea: a $2 billion rock 'n' roll amusement park with a Jackson family museum, a hotel, stores and Mr. Jackson's modest childhood home at the center of it all. When a new administration came into power, though, a dispute emerged over the plans, and the notion was left behind.

TOPICS: News/Current Events; US: Indiana
KEYWORDS: bluezone; gary

1 posted on 11/30/2003 8:01:52 AM PST by sarcasm
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To: sarcasm
I grew up near Gary. I cannot think of a worse cesspool of a city than Gary (maybe East St. Louis comes close).

2 posted on 11/30/2003 8:23:09 AM PST by egarvue (Martin Sheen is not my president...)
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To: sarcasm
The one thing Gary hasn't tried is honest government.
3 posted on 11/30/2003 8:28:11 AM PST by curmudgeonII
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To: sarcasm
He has had plenty of time to do something for his hometown but he would rather live in a fantasy world called Neverland. He is truely a case of arrested development.
4 posted on 11/30/2003 8:35:22 AM PST by fightu4it (conquest by immigration and subversion spells the end of US.)
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To: egarvue
Actually, I do business in Gary almost every day and from my prospective the last few years have been very kind to it. The downtown area is completely changed and the new ball field is very well down. The people who live there, for the most part, are very upbeat. I’m sure the author was more interested in talking to malcontents than people who can see a real difference.
5 posted on 11/30/2003 8:37:37 AM PST by Rob45and2
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To: curmudgeonII
I grew up in and near Gary, too. See how the stupid left promotes P.T. Barnum style crapoo that is always Trojan Horsed with graft and crud. The reason Gary is a bust is the fundamental corrosion of its culture beginning with:
1. High School drop out rates that are stratospheric
2. Out of wedlock children
3. Drug infestation
4. Radical Black culture that denigrates women, education, work ethic, and anything white, i.e. Black racism.
5. General drug related violent crime

These are the reasons Gary is a bust. Until the culture evolves out of its Rwanda like condition, nothing will work to bring it prosperity. It will take self-examination and acceptance of responsibility at the family and societal level in Gary to change these conditions. It hasn't happened in 40 years and it isn't likely in the near future while so called Black leaders keep leading our Black brothers and sisters down the fantasy path of victimolgy, social programs, reparations, and reverse racism. It would be nice to personally participate in positive activities to give a helping hand to lift up the people of Gary. It won't happen either, until they reject the Liberal Plantation and start to think and act for themselves. Thanks.
6 posted on 11/30/2003 8:40:28 AM PST by foyen
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To: egarvue
My ex grew up in Gary, and by his account it was a rough dump.
7 posted on 11/30/2003 8:41:01 AM PST by visualops (I'm still trying to figure out why kamikaze pilots wore helmets.)
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To: sarcasm
From the tidbits I've picked up, Mayor King is a decent man who is trying his best, and as a white man, cannot and will not use racebaiting as a way to "govern" Gary. Unlike one of his predecessors, Mayor Hatcher.
8 posted on 11/30/2003 8:58:23 AM PST by Land_of_Lincoln_John
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To: curmudgeonII
"...The one thing Gary hasn't tried is honest government. ..."

you "conservative bigot...", all they need is a few billion $$$ of taxpayer money;
n world class leadership in the likeness of winnie, nelson, n robert;
to bring this "white suppressed" city into the family of the world community...

you are exactly right. they just never get it.
they keep doin' the same things over n over,
n they expect a different result.

9 posted on 11/30/2003 9:06:24 AM PST by hoot2
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To: sarcasm
Didn't Jacko think that Gary was a 12 year old boy?
10 posted on 11/30/2003 9:20:29 AM PST by Tacis
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To: visualops
No one who hasn't smelled Gary can appreciate this article.
I remember as a kid driving from our town in Northern Indiana to Chicago and asking my parents, "What's that smell" - "That's just Gary, Son."
11 posted on 11/30/2003 9:23:47 AM PST by azcap
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To: visualops
My wife too. Said it was a DUMP (capitals intentional)
12 posted on 11/30/2003 9:57:37 AM PST by pankot
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To: hoot2
you "conservative bigot...",

That's a pretty good description of me.

13 posted on 11/30/2003 11:42:40 AM PST by curmudgeonII
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