Courtesy of Chicago Tribune • July 19, 2019
Written by Gregory Tejeda
The Gary Common Council juggled funds around portions of the city’s budget so as to improve various programs, including a measure meant to improve the marketing efforts of the Genesis Convention Center in the city’s downtown.
Council members voted 6-1, with councilmen Michael Protho and Carolyn Rogers absent, to support the transfers, with councilwoman Rebecca Wyatt, D-1st, being the lone “no” vote because she is skeptical of the portion related to the convention hall.
The ordinance calls for putting $16,000 into the “communication and transportation” line item in the Genesis Center portion of the city budget.
Officials have said they would use the money to pay for an improved Internet presence for the convention hall that dates back to the mid-1970s but has experienced problems in recent years in attracting large-scale events.
Council President Ronald Brewer pointed out that during the past year there have only been two events that used the large hall portion of the building that converts into a 7,000-seat arena — a political rally and a college commencement ceremony.
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“The rest of the year, that hall has sat empty,” Brewer said. “Yet we still have to maintain the building, we have to keep the air conditioning running. It gets costly.”
That led to the notion of doing more to promote the convention hall so as to generate more business.
Wyatt voted against the transfer, mainly because she’s skeptical that the money (which comes from a grant from the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority) is sufficient enough to do any worthwhile marketing efforts.
“That’s not an adequate expenditure,” Wyatt said.
Although Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said it was the amount the city has, she admitted that some serious marketing efforts could cost as much as $50,000 per year.
Brewer has often said in the past that the city needs to change the ways in which it operates the Genesis Convention Center in order to generate more revenue for the city. On Tuesday, he suggested the possibility of turning the arena portion of the building over to a private company that would then be responsible for drawing concerts and other events to the building.
Other transfers included within the ordinance were a shift of $25,000 to a Health and Human Services fund to cover the cost of medical treatment for children living in homes built prior to 1978, which makes them likely to have been exposed to lead.
The police auction fund will receive a $40,000 transfer to provide additional funds for Gary police squad car maintenance, while a firefighter wellness grant of some $37,000 will enable the city do have their firefighters undergo medical exams at Methodist Hospital.