July 20, 2017-Gary Common Council Members Herb Smith and LaVetta Sparks-Wade both had the same reaction when asked about a plan that would have moved Lear Seating to Gary and provided 780 jobs in the cash strapped city:
LIVID! Councillor Smith, who also sits on the Economic Development Commission (EDC) and was privy to the negotiations, acknowledged that there was discussion and the semi-private meetings which indicated Lear Seating had acquired an option to purchase property near the Gary/Chicago Regional Airport. “My understanding is that they came to the City . . .they approached the Mayor” Smith told the Gazette. “First we were told that Mayor Freeman-Wilson did not want to compete with another local Mayor” Smith said of the conversations. Later the EDC was told that there would be zoning issues with placing the factory on a property which was zoned for light industrial use. “We have nothing and she turned away 780 jobs” Smith said in disbelief. Smith said he heard later that the project may interfere with long term plans for a cross-wind runway at the airport. “That is 40 years down the road” Smith said indicating that the City needs jobs now and tax revenue now. We are facing a [budget] crisis and it is going to hit very hard, very soon Smith explained.
Councillor LaVetta Sparks-Wade, who did not know about the potential move until she was asked by the Gazette, stated “we seldom get information from this Administration regarding economic development [projects].” Sparks-Wade went on to criticize the Mayor for providing City money to politically connected Gateway Partners which she says provides nothing for residents. “We gave Gateway Partners, Vance Kenney, nearly as much as Hammond is giving Lear, what did we get for it?” Sparks-Wade asked referring to the 504 Broadway project. In 2014 the City issued a bond for $2.75M for the purchase and acquisition of the former Gary National Bank Building at 504 Broadway by Gateway Partners. Gateway Partners did not put one cent into the project. Gary residents also paid to tear down two adjacent buildings to provide parking for the structure. Gateway Partners has since rented space to the Gary Redevelopment Commission, Gary Sanitary District and MAIACO, LLC. None of these lease agreements were ever brought before the City Council for approval.
According to a source close to the transaction who did not want to be named, the project didn’t need the Mayor’s approval and did not need rezoning. “They could have gone through with the transaction without her approval but she would have made it difficult” the investor told the Gazette.
Meanwhile Hammond will celebrate a $30M facility and 780 jobs on a formerly vacant commercial site.