Home Travel Inside America’s deserted steel town ‘Scary Gary’ – where 10,000 buildings sit abandoned after HALF the population fled – as it turns to foreign investors to save its dying mill which built the country’s bridges, tunnels and skyscrapers

Inside America’s deserted steel town ‘Scary Gary’ – where 10,000 buildings sit abandoned after HALF the population fled – as it turns to foreign investors to save its dying mill which built the country’s bridges, tunnels and skyscrapers

by Merry
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The Indiana border town of Gary is undergoing a makeover after six decades of decline that earned it the nickname

An Indiana border town is undergoing a makeover after six decades of decline that earned it the nickname “Scary Gary.”

The metropolis, now ravaged by crime, is named for lawyer Elbert Henry Gary, who founded US Steel and built what is still the conglomerate’s largest plant there in the summer of 1908.

Gary became a thriving industrial powerhouse that provided the raw materials for many of America’s bridges, tunnels, and skyscrapers during the first half of the 20th century.

It is also known for being the birthplace of Michael Jackson in 1958, and where he grew up with his brothers before they became the Jackson Five.

But the once-prosperous city collapsed into chaos following the decline of the American steel industry in the 1970s, when foreign steel imports surpassed domestic production.

The Indiana border town of Gary is undergoing a makeover after six decades of decline that earned it the nickname “Scary Gary.” (Pictured: US Steel’s Gary Works, which remains the largest integrated factory in North America)

When the steel industry began its decline in the 1970s as foreign imports outpaced the domestic steel economy, Gary began to descend into chaos. (Pictured: a street in Gary, IN)

When the steel industry began its decline in the 1970s as foreign imports outpaced the domestic steel economy, Gary began to descend into chaos. (Pictured: a street in Gary, IN)

Despite decades of decline, the Rust Belt city of Gary has

Despite decades of decline, the Rust Belt city of Gary has “the recipe for success” thanks to its solid infrastructure, according to its new Democratic mayor Eddie Melton. (Pictured: Michael Jackson’s childhood home in Gary)

Its total population plummeted from 180,000 people in 1960 to less than half that number today, and around 10,000 buildings are now abandoned.

Although Gary has long been a diverse city; The exodus also drastically changed its racial dynamics.

Many of the steelworkers who left were white, meaning the black and Hispanic share of the population rose from 21 percent in 1930 to about 87 percent in 2020.

The lack of local industry also led to increased rates of poverty and violent crime, as YouTube blogger Peter Santanello recently recounted.

There is an average of 49 crimes per square mile each year, according to Neighborhood Scout.

This eclipses the national average of 27 crimes per square mile, and is also a whopping 149 percent higher than the Indiana average of 20 crimes per square mile.

Residents told Santanello that they are terrified to walk the streets at night for fear of being robbed, or even shot, amid a sprawl of ruined buildings and abandoned homes.

But the Rust Belt city holds “the recipe for success” thanks to its solid infrastructure, according to its new Democratic mayor Eddie Melton.

“We have to change the narrative and make it clear to the world that Gary is open for business,” Melton told the New York Times.

Gary sits on the shores of Lake Michigan, just across the Illinois border from Chicago, and has easy access to the railroad arteries he once helped build.

It also straddles a seaport to the north and Indiana Dunes National Park to the east, which attracts nearly three million tourists each year.

The Melton administration has begun tearing down old buildings to make way for new development, with plans to build a casino and a minor league baseball stadium.

“We have to change the narrative and make it clear to the world that Gary is open for business,” said new Gary Mayor Eddie Melton (pictured).

Gary's overall population plummeted from 180,000 people in 1960 to less than half that number today due to job losses. (Pictured: a US steel plant in the city in 2007)

Gary’s overall population plummeted from 180,000 people in 1960 to less than half that number today due to job losses. (Pictured: a US steel plant in the city in 2007)

A fallen sign lies on the sidewalk as a couple walks down Broadway in Gary, Indiana, Thursday, April 20, 2006.

A fallen sign lies on the sidewalk as a couple walks down Broadway in Gary, Indiana, Thursday, April 20, 2006.

Officials hope Gary will become an urban center that provides a cheaper alternative to neighboring Chicago, where rents have skyrocketed in recent years.

The average home in the city currently costs just $69,725 according to Zillow, a price that pales in comparison to the Chicago average of $279,118.

It’s also much lower than the cost of buying a home in the nearby Indiana city of Fort Wayne, which averages $215,237 per Zillow.

Nearby transportation systems are also in the process of getting a boost, including a $127 million grant for Interstates 80 and 94, which run through Gary.

Meanwhile, the South Shore Line, a commuter rail link connecting Chicago to cities in northwest Indiana, will open a second set of tracks between Gary and Michigan City.

Gary/Chicago International Airport also received a $6 million grant from the federal government that will allow it to add more cargo capacity, with the goal of becoming a logistics hub for United Parcel Service.

However, officials who want to see improvements from within the city itself will also have to contend with Gary’s status as a border city and political outlier that has also historically held it back.

As a smaller, Democratic-majority city within a large conservative county within a Republican stronghold state, Gary officials have often been stymied by more powerful lawmakers.

Gary has elected a succession of Democratic mayors since 1943, while the Indiana State Senate currently has 39 Republican members and 10 Democrats.

Officials hope Gary will become an urban center that provides a cheaper alternative to neighboring Chicago, where rents have skyrocketed in recent years.

Officials hope Gary will become an urban center that provides a cheaper alternative to neighboring Chicago, where rents have skyrocketed in recent years.

The US Steel smokestacks, which were the source of Gary, Indiana's meteoric rise at the turn of the century and its collapse in the 1970s, are seen on November 2, 2011.

The US Steel smokestacks, which were the source of Gary, Indiana’s meteoric rise at the turn of the century and its collapse in the 1970s, are seen on November 2, 2011.

The assembly has blocked several initiatives that would have allowed the city to expand its tax base, while offering scant funding due to concerns about corruption, according to the NYT.

“Gary was captive to what the other cities in his county wanted to do,” Paul Helmke, former Republican mayor of Fort Wayne, told the newspaper.

Japan’s Nippon Steel’s much-questioned acquisition of US Steel could also further impact American jobs.

US Steel’s largest plant, Gary Works, employs about 3,700 people, down from more than 30,000 at its peak.

Previous plans to transform Gary have also been scrapped, including a multimillion-dollar plan to build a theme park based on the city’s reputation as the birthplace of the Jackson Five.

“We certainly missed the opportunity to turn it into a Dollywood, a Graceland,” Chuck Hughes, president of the Gary Chamber of Commerce, told the NYT.

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