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
An Indiana border city is undergoing a makeover following six decades of decline which earned it the moniker ‘Scary Gary’.
The now crime-ravaged metropolis was named after lawyer Elbert Henry Gary, who founded US Steel and built what is still the conglomerate’s biggest plant there in the summer of 1908.
Gary grew into a prosperous industrial powerhouse which provided the raw materials for many of America’s bridges, tunnels and skyscrapers over the first half of the 20th century.
It’s 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-booming city crumbled into chaos following the decline of the American steel industry in the 1970s, as foreign steel imports outpaced domestic production.
The Indiana border city of Gary is undergoing a makeover following six decades of decline which earned it the moniker ‘Scary Gary’. (Pictured: US Steel’s Gary Works, which remains the largest integrated mill in North America)
When the steel industry began its decline in the 1970s thanks to foreign imports outpacing the domestic steel economy, Gary began crumbling into chaos. (Pictured: a street in Gary, IN)
Despite decades of decline, the Rust Belt city of Gary has ‘the recipe for success’ thanks to its strong infrastructure, according to its new Democrat Mayor Eddie Melton. (Pictured: Michael Jackson’s childhood home in Gary)
Its overall population plummeted from 180,000 people in 1960 to less than half that number today – and around 10,000 buildings now lay abandoned.
Although Gary has long been a diverse city, the exodus also dramatically changed its racial dynamics.
Much of the steel workers who left were white, meaning the black and Hispanic share of the population rose from 21 percent in 1930 to around 87 percent in 2020.
The dearth of local industry also led to rising rates of poverty and violent crime – as recently chronicled by YouTube blogger Peter Santanello.
A median 49 crimes per square mile are recorded there each year, according to Neighborhood Scout.
This dwarfs the national median of 27 crimes per square mile – and it’s also a whopping 149 percent higher than the Indiana median of 20 crimes per square mile.
Residents told Santanello they’re terrified to walk down the streets at night out of fear of being robbed – or even shot – amid a sprawl of decaying buildings and abandoned homes.
But the Rust Belt city harbors ‘the recipe for success’ thanks to its strong infrastructure, according to its new Democrat Mayor Eddie Melton.
‘We have to change the narrative and make it clear to the world that Gary is open to business,’ Melton told the New York Times.
Gary sits on the banks of Lake Michigan just across the Illinois border from Chicago, and it has easy access to the arterial railroads it once helped build.
It also straddles a shipping port to the north, and Indiana Dunes National Park to the east, which attracts almost three million tourists each year.
Melton’s administration has begun tearing down old buildings to make way for new developments, with plans to construct a casino and a minor league ballpark.
‘We have to change the narrative and make it clear to the world that Gary is open to 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 U.S. Steel plant in the city in 2007)
A fallen sign sits on the sidwalk as a couple walks down Broadway in Gary, Indiana Thursday April 20, 2006
Officials hope Gary will grow into an urban hub which will provide a cheaper alternative to neighboring Chicago, where rents have rocketed in recent years.
The average home in the city currently stands at just $69,725 according to Zillow, a price which pales in comparison with 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 has an average of $215,237 per Zillow.
Nearby transport systems are also in the process of receiving a boost, including a $127 million grant for Interstates 80 and 94, which traverse Gary.
Meanwhile, the South Shore Line, a commuter rail link which connects Chicago with northwest Indiana cities, is set to open a second set of tracks between Gary and Michigan City.
The Gary/Chicago International Airport was also given a $6 million grant from the federal government allowing it to add more cargo capacity, with the aiming of it becoming a logistics hub for the 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 political outlier and border city which has also historically held it back.
As a smaller, majority Democratic city within a large conservative county within a Republican stronghold state, Gary officials have often been obstructed by more powerful lawmakers.
Gary has elected a succession of Democrat mayors since 1943, while the Indiana State Senate currently has 39 Republican members and 10 Dems.
Officials hope Gary will grow into an urban hub which will provide a cheaper alternative to neighboring Chicago, where rents have rocketed in recent years
The smokestacks of US Steel – which was the source of Gary, Indiana’s meteoric rise at the turn of the century and collapse in the 1970’s – are seen on November 2, 2011
The assembly has blocked several initiatives which would have allowed the city to expand its tax base – while also offering scarce funding due to concerns over corruption, according to the NYT.
‘Gary was held captive to what the other cities in its county wanted to do,’ Paul Helmke, the former Republican mayor of Fort Wayne told the newspaper.
The much-contested acquisition of US Steel by Japan’s Nippon Steel could also affect yet more American jobs.
US Steel’s largest plant, Gary Works, employs around 3,700 people – down from more than 30,000 at its peak.
Previous plans to transform Gary have also been canned, including a multibillion-dollar scheme to construct a theme park based on the city’s reputation as the birthplace of the Jackson Five.
‘We certainly missed an opportunity to make it like a Dollywood, a Graceland,’ said Chuck Hughes, the president of the Gary Chamber of Commerce told the NYT.