Not every abandoned building in Gary, Indiana has an enchanting history. Several epitomize the failed attempts to revitalize, and instead showcase the city’s history of financial failures.

The abandoned Sheraton Hotel is one such example. Originally opened in 1968 as a Holiday Inn, the building would close only four years later. It was later renovated and re-opened in 1978 as a Sheraton, but the hotel closed again seven years later, never turning a profit.

Since the hotel closed in 1985, it has served as a grim reminder of Gary’s economic woes.

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The Holiday Inn

Holiday-Inn-1970-signWhen former mayor Richard Hatcher assumed office in 1967, part of his redevelopment effort for downtown Gary involved the construction of a major hotel – something his city was lacking.

The hotel would provide accommodations for a new convention center, which was intended to boost tourism and help attract businesses to the area.

Plans moved quickly, and before the turn of the decade Hatcher secured federal assistance to help a group of private investors build a massive 14-story hotel with up to 300 guest suites.

The structure would be built at 465 Broadway (map), the site of the old Broadway Hotel which was built in 1908 but burned down in 1952 (below).

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Broadway Hotel circa 1910

The Holiday Inn was well equipped, complete with a bar, 165-seat restaurant, and an attached 5-story parking garage. It was opened on December 2, 1968 to much fanfare – a landmark event in an otherwise declining Gary.

Unfortunately, the Holiday Inn’s sweeping views of smoky Gary Works failed to draw guests. The hotel would struggle immediately after opening, and in 1971 management attempted to lean operational overhead by shutting down the top eight floors.

The attempted cost-cutting failed to save the hotel; after only four years of operation, the Holiday Inn closed in 1972. Charles Barnette, Holiday Inn’s director of public relations, said “This location just does not draw people. I don’t know why.”

Of course, there were many reasons why – and anyone who lived in Gary could tell you.

Holiday-Inn-1970
A stock Holiday Inn photo demonstrates the company’s hotel design of the era

The hotel rates were unaffordable to Gary residents and their guests, the closest highway was a seldom-used toll road without an exit for the hotel, and perhaps most importantly there were the macro-economic issues of Gary not being an attractive destination for tourism or business.

After the Holiday Inn closed, the city would lease space in the vacant hotel to local businesses.

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Rebirth as the Sheraton Hotel

Sheraton-logoDespite this, Mayor Hatcher did not give up on his idea of a major hotel for Gary; in early 1977 the embattled mayor arranged for Steel Plaza, Inc. to sign a 20-year lease on the property and re-open the hotel after a major renovation.

Steel Plaza was a private investment group formed by a local attorney, an accountant, and the owner of a car dealership. They arranged for CSC Hotel Associates to manage their new Sheraton franchise, which they were awarded in late 1977.

On December 18, 1978 the hotel was re-opened as the Sheraton. Millions of dollars were spent on the remodel, now updated to late-1970s décor. The top floor was converted into luxury suites named “Peach” and “Lime”; they were decorated accordingly with pastels and wallpaper reflecting tastes of the era.

The Gazebo restaurant would keep guests fed while the new Visions Lounge would provide entertainment and host musical guests, including local band The Independent Movement on opening night.

Sheraton-brochure-1978
1978 Gary Sheraton brochure proclaims “A Taste of the 80’s–TODAY!”

The newly remodeled hotel would also cater to business travelers with multiple meeting rooms capable of accommodating up to 350 people. It also had a sky bridge constructed over Broadway to connect the building to the planned Genesis Convention Center which would be located across the street.

Sheraton-walkwayHowever a lack of funding for the Genesis Center resulted in the sky bridge never fulfilling its mission; when the center was completed it was smaller than planned and did not reach the sky bridge, rendering it useless.

Despite opening to much fanfare in 1978, the seemingly snake-bit hotel was doomed to fail again. After two years of losing money running the Sheraton, Steel Plaza could no longer afford to run the operation. Hatcher did not want to see his project fail again so soon, so in 1980 he agreed to waive Steel Plaza’s tax obligations and pay the hotel’s utility bills in order to keep it open.

By 1983 the city could no longer afford to subsidize the Sheraton’s operations. Over 400 employees were laid off and Steel Plaza filed for bankruptcy. The operation would be a ghost hotel for the next year, operating with half the lights turned off, minimal staffing, and most of the floors closed.

Hatcher managed to keep the Gazebo restaurant and Visions Lounge open for another two years, although allegations later surfaced in 1987 he misappropriated federal job training program funds in order to do so.

Sheraton-walk-over-broadway-angle

In May of 1984 a fire forced the owners to close the Sheraton, although the city’s subsidies kept the Gazebo restaurant and Visions Lounge open until 1985. But after six years, the hotel was abandoned once again. With no tenant and increasing property tax bills, the city needed to find a suitor for the property.

Mayor Hatcher decided to list the building at auction, however appraisers gave the property a negative value which made it difficult for the city to sell.

(Click thumbnails to enlarge)

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Mayoral Change Brings Hope

By 1988 Thomas V. Barnes had replaced “mayor for life” Richard Hatcher, ending Hatcher’s nineteen-year reign. One of Barnes’ first orders of business was to redevelop the Sheraton, which had increasingly become the target of vandalism and arson.

In June of 1989 Mayor Barnes had a front-row seat when the fire department was called to put out an arson fire on the ninth floor.

In October of 1989 Barnes announced the hotel had been sold to a group of private investors led by local real estate mogul James Allen for one million dollars. Plans called for Allen’s group to invest an additional $5M to $10M to renovate the hotel as a mixed-use commercial and hotel space.

Sheraton-danger

However in February of 1990 an environmental impact study crew discovered asbestos throughout the building. With estimates of asbestos removal around $500k, plans for the renovation stalled and the buyers backed out.

Barnes was unable to fulfill his campaign promises of redeveloping the building and give up the seat in the next election.

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Mayoral Change Brings Hope II

By 1995 Scott King became mayor in an aggressive campaign to rejuvenate Gary. He planned to sign a controversial bill to allow off-shore gambling; despite being unpopular with residents, the move would significantly boost the city’s income from taxes.

King also managed to draw Donald Trump’s dollars to Gary. Plans were for Trump Casinos to develop a new casino resort at Buffington Harbor with a marina and offshore gambling.

Trump-Buffington-Harbor
Trump Casinos Buffington Harbor Resort, 1996-2005

In exchange for first development rights under the new casino law, Trump Casinos agreed to invest $20M into the Sheraton building – however no specifics or timeline were announced. By June of 1996, the Buffington Harbor Casino Resort had opened.

In November of 1996 inspectors for the development project found asbestos on the 3rd floor of the building. Further inspection would find the asbestos problem to be much greater than initially estimated, however the inspection was city-funded and limited in scope; it stopped before the entire building was examined.

In October of 1998 the plans for the promised Trump renovation of the Sheraton had been announced, but the estimated investment had shrunk to $10M. The new building would be named the Genesis Hotel, have 276 rooms, 5,000 square feet of meeting space, and a 150-seat restaurant with accompanying lounge.

Major structural changes included a new main entrance facing Broadway and a removal of the sky bridge, ironic given the hotel’s proposed name.

Gary Style BannerDespite the plans, Trump’s funds would never reach the former Sheraton. The city altered the deal to move Trump’s money toward a minor league baseball stadium project instead, effectively letting Trump off the hook for the Sheraton.

In an effort to spruce up the abandoned Sheraton Hotel in advance of the Miss USA pageant in 2001, the city spent $30,000 to create an eight-story banner to hang on the side of the dilapidated building (pictured). The 600 pound banner – styled in the format of a magazine cover ­– talked about “Gary Style” and was part of the new revitalization effort in downtown Gary. It proudly proclaimed the city as the host of the Miss USA pageant.

In February of 2000 the city of Gary offered Miss U.SA. $1 million to host the pageant in Gary. That year the city signed a two year deal with Miss U.S.A. and CBS-TV, and the city held a third-year option. The pageant was held in Gary in 2001 and 2002 – however the city opted out of the third year for economic reasons; the city had spent several million dollars on subsidizing the pageant, but had only realized hundreds of thousands in revenue.

Trump himself remained involved with Gary for several years after the pageant with his casino business, but he never did renovate the Sheraton. His involvement in Gary would end in 2005 when the Trump Casino’s Buffington Harbor location closed. When Trump sold his interests to Majestic Star Casino in 2005, the city lost its largest investor. King would scramble to find an alternative, at one point announcing plans to convert the building into a Hilton Garden Inn, however this would not happen.

[ In 2004 the city police force used the Sheraton to conduct rappelling drills for prospective SWAT team members. ]

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Mayoral Change Brings Hope III

Scott King resigned as mayor in 2006. Rudolph Clay would become his successor through a special election. That year, appraisers filed a report for the city which set the Sheraton’s property value as negative $793,000. The report said the building was overwhelmed with an asbestos problem, which would have to be dealt with before the building could be razed.

Despite this, Mayor Clay would announce he found a buyer for the Sheraton in Chicago developer Tony Glenn, who had made the only bid: one dollar. Clay revealed that Glenn Group Development, Inc. planned to spend between $6M and $8M updating the hotel.

The first two floors would be commercial retail space, the next five would be hotel rooms, and the top seven floors would be condominiums. If it sounded too good to be true, it probably was; no one had ever heard of the Glenn Group and nothing came from these plans.

Sheraton-every-floor
A gutted guest-room floor shows the results of a partially-finished asbestos removal project

Mayor Clay did not give up on the Sheraton; the hotel was the centerpiece of his 2007 re-election campaign. This time, he promised an Illinois developer would convert it into a senior citizen high-rise. The plans included 120 apartments for independent seniors, about 600 square feet each, with an estimated rental cost between $400-$1,100 per month.

There would also be 120 apartments for seniors who need assisted care, about 300 sq ft each, with expected monthly rents of $1,800 per month. Finally, there was to be 10 condominiums on the top two floors averaging $250,000 each, available to anyone willing to buy them.

Like prior hotel plans, the two first floors were designed as commercial and retail space. Because it was a senior center, a satellite medical center would be located in the building. There were even plans to include a Starbucks.

In November of 2007 the mayor had a sales trailer set up front of the old Sheraton, where private investors could come in and stake their claim for the new development. The New Gary Development Group was to acquire the building from the city of Gary and fund the new development.

The NGDG was given a 3-year timeline to complete the project, and a small banner was added to the side of the tower advertising the NGDG involvement (below).

Gary-sheraton-NGDGsales

Before any development could be done, the asbestos had to be removed. In January of 2008 the New Gary Development Group used a $735,000 federal EPA loan to hire J&K Environmental Inc. to rid the building of asbestos. Bob Johnsen, owner of J&K and visitor to the building on several previous occasions, said of the asbestos: “It’s not as bad now. It actually looks better than the last time we were in there.”

An inspection in January of 2009 by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management announced New Gary and J&K had successfully removed 98% of the asbestos in the building. However the job would not be fully completed due to lack of funds; the federal loan had run out just before the job could be completed. Condominium sales were so poor the city scuttled the idea and hauled the sales trailer away.

On July 16th, 2010, the nearly-bankrupt New Gary Development Group deeded the Sheraton building back to the city of Gary, complete with an unpaid property tax bill of over $167,000. When the city re-acquired the Sheraton from the NGDG, they also inherited the debt from the EPA loan – which was also unpaid and stood at $728,000.

(Click thumbnails to enlarge)

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Mayoral Change Brings Hope IV

Karen-Freeman-WilsonIn 2011, Gary native Karen Freeman-Wilson won the seat and became the city’s first female mayor. Like her predecessors, she would focus much of her campaign on plans for the abandoned hotel.

In January of 2012 she announced the hotel would be razed, and a park would take its place behind city hall.

Freeman-Wilson’s demolition plan involved finding a benevolent contractor willing to demolish the hotel at no cost, something she has been unable to do so far.

She reportedly offered the hotel to Hollywood movie companies, if they were looking for a building to implode for a film. Still, there were no takers.

In October of 2012 Freeman-Wilson announced the city’s 2013 budget, and it finally included funds specifically earmarked for demolition of the Sheraton. However as of May 2013, the hulking monolith still casts its shadow over city hall.

sheraton-city-hall
Why it’s difficult for Gary mayors to overlook the Sheraton

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The Future

No matter what happens to the old Sheraton building, it likely won’t change the fortunes of Gary. But changes to Gary’s landscape after the Sheraton closed gave several mayors hope for future success, despite the past failures.

An exit ramp was finally added for Broadway off I-90 in 1986, giving the closed hotel direct highway access for the first time. The Genesis Convention Center (below) opened across the street in 1981, but was reduced in size and too late to save the already-failing Sheraton.

Genesis-Convention-center
The Genesis Convention Center

Today, most understand the reason the hotel failed wasn’t due to the hotel. Gary is facing a chicken-or-egg infrastructure conundrum: without sufficient guest accommodations, the city can’t expect business or tourism to come to town. But without additional business or tourism in Gary, there is little to support a large hotel.

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Why feature this building?

It’s a rare sight in the United States to see a 14-story hotel abandoned for almost thirty years. The hotel was also the focal point of every Gary mayor’s election campaign over the last four decades; the Sheraton made mayors and broke mayors.

Eventually the city will arrange the funding to raze the building and it will be gone from Gary’s skyline forever. But as such a significant part of the city’s recent history, it is worth remembering.

Second-floor pool sits empty and vandalized

Gary Indiana Sheraton Hotel pool


Gary Indiana Sheraton Hotel pool

sheraton-rooftop
Roof of the Sheraton

photos courtesy the Idiot Photographer

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UPDATE 03/07/2014: The city of Gary recently solicited bids for the demolition of the Sheraton. The town has a live feed of the Sheraton Hotel to display the demolition. Watch the feed here. It’s live as of 03/07/2014, but the hotel is still standing.

UPDATE 10/12/2014: The city has finally torn down the Sheraton. The Idiot Photographer captured a picture of the demolition.

Gary Indiana Sheraton Hotel demolition

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Sometimes Interesting has teamed up with the Idiot Photographer to bring the reader a rare and unique insight to the history of Gary, Indiana. During this month we will feature various structures around town and tell their history.

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45 COMMENTS

  1. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing what you’re going to come up with next 🙂
    Why does Gary, Indiana sound so familiar to me? It’s not as if I even live in the States, but it’s niggling something in my mind…

    • It might be that a synapse or two remember that it’s where the Jackson clan, of musical fame, originated?

      • Yes it is, the family house is still standing and has been turned into a shrine for MJ. To see it you’d be amazed that all those kids lived there, it is so tiny. It is also kept in better repair now than it was when it was occupied.

  2. Thanks for the detailed history of the hotel! It’s very interesting that so many attempts to make something of it have failed.

  3. Wow! I’ve searched for information on the Sheraton for years and could never find anything. Where on earth did you dig all this up?

  4. Awesome yet again, SI. I think my favorite is the flyer advertising “a taste of the 80’s – today!” Now just waiting to see what you tackle next.

  5. Man, I knew this place a tragic history of failure but I never knew it was that tragic. Excellent work digging up the history on the place, I am impressed all over again.

    On a side note I remember when they held the Miss USA pageant in Gary, and wondering how the hell that came to be. I never would have guessed it involved this hotel!

    • It was fascinating researching this hotel. I was surprised how much more often the Sheraton was mentioned in the papers after it closed rather than when it was open. It definitely managed to be more relevant when it was empty.

  6. I really enjoyed the article. What a shame that it sits abandoned. Really nice pictures too! Is it sill standing yet? I would like to go and see it. I’m sure the pictures don’t do it all of the justice it deserves.

  7. Just another building that turned to shit fast, no one in there right mind would stay there.
    I remember the rooms being stripped of the TV’s before they were ever opened. What a crying shame what happened to Gary.

  8. Great article! I read on WTHR.com that they were going to demolish it, and wanted to know more about it. I couldn’t have asked for a more informative article. Keep up the good work!

  9. Not mentioned in the article for part of it’s failure, the many robberies and several homicides that occurred in the hotel. If one digs through the old newspaper articles from the 1970s, you will find that the Genesis Convention Center was supposed to be home of the national “African-American History Museum”, obviously that never happened.

  10. I grew up in Glen Park, a neighborhood of Gary. I remember taking the South Shore train from Beverly Shores into Chicago in the early 80s, and forever seeing that building at the Gary train stop. My parents immigrated to the Gary area in the 50’s. It used to be a truly beautiful city. Even in the early 60’s when I was a child, I remember downtown Gary, being quite fine. The abandon hotel represents how the town now feels. So so very sad. I hope the newest Mayor can help get Gary back on the map. I hope somehow this Town will go full circle. Thanks for the article, and the haunting photos.

  11. Im from Gary. My family moved to Vegas around 03 & im so glad we did. I cant imagine still living there. Its sad to see what that city has become. Its really awesome that you took the time to research this place.

    • Thanks Tameka. I felt there was definitely a lack of this type of coverage of some of Gary’s landmarks – for better or worse. Thanks for acknowledging my effort, it means a lot to hear it from readers. 🙂

  12. This was the most informative article I’ve read on the Gary Sheraton Hotel, a building whose story continues to fascinate me because of how it reflects Gary’s difficult history. I think the reason why past and present Mayors of Gary are obsessed with the building is because of its claustrophobic-like proximity to City Hall, perpetually casting a grim shadow over the Mayor’s office; a constant reminder and symbol of a declining city in turmoil. If it lay on the outer fringes of Gary, it would probably just sit there and rot like so much of the city. Freeman-Wilson represents Gary’s best hope for quite some time. She’s certainly the most educated, no-nonsense Mayor in a long, long while.

    • Thanks Bob, cheers. I agree, the Sheraton really is a microcosm of Gary’s woes. Each mayor has had a project or plan for the hotel, which was almost a proxy for the city’s economic status. And you’re right, surely the fact it casts its shadow over the city hall certainly doesn’t hurt.

      Credit is due to Freeman-Wilson; I have confidence she will continue to improve the city’s situation.

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I’m very flattered at your first sentence. Thank you sir!

  13. The Sheraton is currently being torn down. I’d say half of it is gone. The rest should be down by the end of the week. There are also several other buildings in Gary to urban explore. My boyfriend, son and I have gone to several. It’s heartbreaking to see how such beautiful places have been left to fall apart.

  14. I was on the roof of the Sheraton yesterday. The main building, the parking garage and the walkway over Broadway are still standing. The pool and pool deck are completely gone, as well as the front awning and east bridge. Get there soon if you want to see it. The view from the roof is awesome.

  15. Now you mention it, that would have been a great idea! I didn’t put much thought in it since I was never impressed with the place, inside or out. Many people are asking if this was the best use of taxpayer money considering the many, many other issues in Gary. Still plenty of potholes around town that would swallow a 1970 Buick, but this?? I digress.

  16. Fascinating article! I love mid-century architecture, an interest in Gary since my mom lived in Hammond, and I remember its song in The Music Man. But mostly I like a good story, well documented with photos. Thank you.
    I’m surprised there is no follow-up on your blog since the building went down. Have no locals contributed photos or details? They should, as you’ve put so much of your time and effort into providing this incredible history for them.

  17. they should have made it a senior citizens home.Never should have torn it down. I lived in Gary for 40 years and there is a need for good housing. Mayor Freeman was wrong to demolish it, she said it was an eyesore so then tear down the mills? She gets too much credit for being educated …so what! smart people do dumb shortsighted things all the time and most of the asbestos was already removed so it was ready for the right project like turning it into Gary’s land based casino once that bill is passed….how dumb to clear away a solid 14 story building. Now nothing significant will ever become of that space for many decades if ever. The 12 story Knoght of Columbus building a few blocks away sat vacant for many years and was rehabed and now is an apartment building..it was built in the 1920’s. Same with the Standard Liqours building across the street from the Sheraton…sat for decades empty….whhy not the hotel? Dumb move mayor…a waste of millions to tear down intead of build up or mothball till the right time came. Nice artilcle and pictures though.

    • I’m not sure when the last time you saw this building was. I drove past that building before it was torn down every day twice a day down Broadway. The amount of work and money it would have taken to “rehab” that building would have been more than the cost to tear it down. Not to mention the buildings that you spoke of that were rehabed were bought by individuals or rehab companies. Noone wanted to buy this building and rehab it. While standing on the platform of the Gary Metro Center BEFORE the removal of asbestos you could see through the building. There was no rehabing that building with out major investments which Gary isn’t going to get.

      • Agreed. It had sat awaiting rehabilitation, the right time and just the right owner for decades; deteriorating and rotting from the inside out. And asbestos was absolutely an issue, rendering it virtually valueless given the cost of abatement. Sitting as it did, right in the heart of downtown Gary, I think Freeman-Wilson believed that it didn’t send the right message to potential investors in the city. The fact that it was a constant reminder of a city in distress in her own back yard (being situated adjacent to city hall), probably had something to do with it too. A casino? I think not. Have you seen the parking situation in downtown Gary?

  18. you could have said the same thing about the Standard liquors building..it had trees growing on the roof and crumbling walls and you can see the old pictures of the inside from just before it was rehabed it looked worse than the hotel but it was built in the 20’s i believe and 90 years later it has new life….the sheraton at 45 years old could have waited and it had a 5 story parking garage for cars and besides there are many empty lots that can have a casino lot built on it. and the asbestos was removed many years ago if read the article. and if you look at a building being buil from scratch, it you can see thru it as well the only difference is that you have to put up walls again…easier to rehab if the work is already done for you.But yes the mayor saw it every day and wanted to get rid of it rather than try to deal with it and really show how smart she is and accomplish something with it that is good and visionary not just give up and tear it down and grow some grass. And as far as less to tear it down theory…that is not a very convincing reason to go around and demolish things…and saw it everyday from the southshore train and saw a casino with restaurants and shops, gas stations once the gamblers went there …just like the new baseball stadium plays to capacity at times and slowly people are rediscovering the city…it will take time..there is hope and someone would have surely payed to rehab if the situation was right and the way scott king tried to link the hotel with the license to operate a casino in gary…too bad trump weasled out of the agreement and king did not call his bluff.

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