Gary mayor taps 2 with experience to head commercial development

GARY — Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson introduced another cadre of people on her team and with them her plans for streamlining the way the city does business with and for businesses.

Freeman-Wilson named Gary native J. Forest Hayes, a former senior economic adviser to Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty, to helm the new Department of Commerce, while Luke Oil CEO Tom Collins, of Valparaiso, will take the role as director of the new not-for-profit Economic Development Corp. Collins will be paid $1 for his services.

The announcement at a news conference on Tuesday builds on the new mayor’s plan she introduced Monday to have those two new departments facilitate business development in the city.

Collins said before his grandfather died two years ago, “he was over at my house once and we were talking. And he asked me, ‘What are you doing about Gary?’

“I plan to forge stronger bonds with various agencies and re-engage our industrial and educational partners.

“This is going to be a lot of fun. I’m tired of people being critical.”

Collins enumerated the six areas where the Economic Development Corp. will focus: East Gary/Miller, Broadway and Interstate 80/94, the airport, the retail and commercial areas around Grant Street, downtown and neighborhoods.

Freeman-Wilson wants the Department of Commerce to coordinate development concerns of various city departments, such as the Board of Zoning Appeals, Plan Commission, Building Department, Community Development Commission and Redevelopment Commission.

Statute prevents any of them from being dissolved, the mayor said. They can, however, change how meetings are run.

“I envision one meeting where the Board of Zoning says what (a potential business) needs, and the Plan Commission says what it needs,” she said.

“One of my first objectives is looking at the processes and doing away with a lot of the meetings.”

Partnerships also play a role in the new mayor’s business development plan.

One, she said, is a partnership with Purdue University Calumet, where the school will provide faculty and student talent for projects such as logistics and transportation, structural assessments and its Center for Innovation through Visualization and Simulation.

The school is donating its services to the city or will charge a nominal fee where applicable, PUC Chancellor Tom Keon said.

“Where we can make (the city’s virtual prototype) come to life, there’s nothing better than to see it,” Keon said.

Other positions announced by the mayor Tuesday include:

Valda Staton, redevelopment director

Arlene Colvin, community development director

Lauren Riga, green urbanism director

Dwayne Williams, planning director

Joe Van Dyk, zoning director

Bill Joiner will continue to chair the Economic Development Commission and serve as the city’s representative on the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority.

Original Article