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BusINess » BusINess Story of the Week Business » Razing buildings raises redevelopment hope

Razing buildings raises redevelopment hope

A crew demolishes an abandoned home on December 20, 2010, in Gary. U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., helped secure funding for the work after touring the house last year with a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development official. (Photograph by Heather Eidson/The Times.)

A crew demolishes an abandoned home on December 20, 2010, in Gary. U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., helped secure funding for the work after touring the house last year with a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development official.
(Photograph by Heather Eidson/The Times.)

For urban areas plagued by unsafe or abandoned buildings that drain property values and scar the landscape, the best way to spur development often involves a wrecking ball.

Hammond, Whiting, East Chicago and Gary—landlocked except for the lakefront—can’t build out by scooping up underdeveloped or unincorporated pieces of land on their borders, so they demolish sagging homes and outdated factories in the name of development.

“It’s a very important tool and it’s true redevelopment,” Whiting Mayor Joe Strahula said. “It’s very expensive, but you have to utilize a program like that or else, a small city like Whiting that’s landlocked, development doesn’t happen.”

Blighted areas can bleed a city slowly by bringing down property values, decreasing a city’s tax collection and making it harder for cities to provide basic services.

This can breed more blight as people leave an area where they can’t expect streets to get plowed or firefighters to arrive in time to save a home.

“I’m not sure you can quantify it directly, but having a building like that in the middle of a nicer block virtually delays potential development and makes people think twice before developing their own properties,” Strahula said.

The building safety and development arms of local governments eyeball properties to destroy in hope they may one day rejoin tax rolls.

The brick-by-brick dismantling of nuisance properties is a major piece of Gary’s revitalization efforts, said LaLosa Burns, spokeswoman for the city of Gary.

In different cities, the concept is the same: destroy the building, scrub the land, get someone to buy it and build.

Gary razed 101 properties last year, including the old stocking factory at 21st Avenue and Massachusetts Street. At least another 50 will meet their end this year.

The hope is to make the parcels more attractive to potential homeowners or developers. East Chicago is home to a now-vacant 50-acre former tank company.

“I have a map that has areas that are open and areas we know that are ready to be used. If a developer comes in, and they ask for acreage, I can fit for what they’re asking for, said Terra Samuel, economic development director for East Chicago.

“I can tell you how it zoned and if it matches, we can get together, structure a deal and see if it happens.”

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