The Gary Redevelopment Commission's interns are determined to spark an interest in historic preservation and they've embarked on a crowdfunding campaign to raise $15,000 to fund a preservation walking tour.
"All praise to our interns, two associate planners from AmeriCorps VISTA, Alex Koerner and Sam Salvesen," said Joseph Van Dyk, executive director of the Gary Redevelopment Commission. "They are our historic preservation team."
To achieve their goal, the online crowdfunding effort must pull in $7,500 by March 15 to receive a $7,500 grant from the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority's CreatINg Places program. So far, the crowdfunding effort has raised $4,444 toward its goal.
The full amount will permit the redevelopment commission to host three dates. Two days will be for the Gary Preservation Tour, a guided walking tour of nine historic sites. The third day will be an all-day open house.
The $15,000 would cover the cost for vertical street banners recognizing downtown as a nationally registered historic district and the cost to protect abandoned buildings by boarding up windows, removing rubble and installing protective canopies on the ceilings.
"Regardless of the funding, we will do an open house on June 17," said Koerner. "We chose that day because there will be a gospel music and arts festival in Gateway Park by Changing Lives and Changing Patterns. People from outside will see that downtown is a happening place and we want to put that on display."
The project is designed to get people to talk about historic preservation in Gary, according to Salvesen. Plans are not final, but the tour is expected to include City Hall, the Gary Land Co., the Knights of Columbus, Union Station, Lake County Courthouse, Gary State Bank, Hotel Gary/Genesis Towers, the post office and City Methodist Church. Due to safety concerns, limited access is likely for the abandoned buildings. In some cases, the tour will focus on the exterior of the building. The intention is to take visitors inside the Union Station and the post office.
The concept was sparked by the interns' visit to Open House Chicago where they toured buildings on the South Side in October. The weekend event allows the public to wander through buildings considered to be the city's architectural icons.
Salvesen and Koerner have been researching and cataloging Gary's historical buildings and they say there's a drive to save what's left. They want to preserve and showcase the city's architectural treasures.
"The art deco post office was designed by Howard Cheney, a rock star architect. He was the supervising architect on the Chicago Tribune Tower. He did buildings for New York's World's Fair in the 1940s," said Salvesen. "The post office is abandoned. That was part of the Works Progress Association. It was built so well and is still in pretty good shape."
One unique aspect to the effort is the use of a crowdfunding platform to raise the matching funds for the grant.
According to Salvesen, they have been forging relationships with people and organizations interested in historic preservation. Social media has been a help.
"One day someone sent out a tweet and we got $600 in donations through a tweet," Salvesen said.
"Certainly this is new for us," said Van Dyk. "It is something we welcome. When people can participate and take ownership in something, that creates a level of buy-in and reiterates people's interest. What's interesting to me about crowd-funding or a call for public art, people feel a real sense of ownership."
"Patronicity is a civic crowdfunding platform," said Veronica Watson, director of Indiana operations for Patronicity. "The program Gary is participating in is called CreatINg Places and it was started as a partnership with IHCDA and Patronicity. IHCDA provides matching funds and set criteria and gives the final approval before crowdfunding can start."
Watson said she coaches the redevelopment commission through the process from the application to the campaign.
"They are in a good spot," said Watson. "It's a great project. We are excited about it. Gary has a soft spot in everyone's heart. This will bring a spotlight on Gary's historic past and spark discussions on where Gary goes next. We all want them to succeed."