The city of Gary and representatives of the National Civil Rights Hall of Fame have begun exploring sites for a facility that includes a vacant Gary school owned by the nonprofit organization.
Supported by a $60,000 federal grant and matching funds of $7,500 from the city and civil rights group, a feasibility study is expected to determine the optimal location for the civil rights museum, a longtime dream of former mayor Richard G. Hatcher.
While the National Civil Rights Hall of Fame owns the former Banneker school property at 23rd Avenue and Garfield Street, that site may not be the best location, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said.
The city's Redevelopment Commission will open bids at its Wednesday meeting for the demolition of the school. On Tuesday, several contractors converged on the school to prepare their demolition estimates.
Freeman-Wilson said the bid process doesn't necessarily mean the city plans to finance the school's demolition.
"This is all part of the feasibility effort," she said.
Freeman-Wilson said the study should be completed by summer.
The study, which Freeman-Wilson said will examine other city-owned shovel-ready properties that don't require demolition. She said the key will be to find a site that easily accessible for visitors.
The Banneker site is near Grant Street and Interstate 80-94, but it's in a residential neighborhood.
Lamar Taylor, a board member for the National Civil Rights Hall of Fame, said his group is working with the city in evaluating sites beyond Banneker.
"Hopefully, with leadership of the Civil Rights Hall of Fame and mayor, at a later date we might be able to talk about other locations," Taylor said. "I don't want to get ahead of myself."
Taylor said location is paramount.
"Anywhere you locate it, you want to draw other activity around it to benefit the city," he said.
The ideal site would have room around it for a hotel, restaurants and other activities to benefit visitors, Taylor said.
Taylor said the civil rights organization also hopes for some funding from Lake County officials.
Hatcher, 84, has been raising funds for the Civil Rights Hall of Fame for two decades.
Fifty years ago, Hatcher made history when he won election as Indiana's first African-American mayor. Along with Carl Stokes in Cleveland, they were the first two black mayors of major cities in the country.