- Associated Press - Sunday, October 12, 2014

GARY, Ind. (AP) - When more than 900 blighted homes are in line to be demolished within about a year, it’s good to have someone in charge who’s referred to as “the Rainman of Demolition.”

It’s a term coined by Gary spokeswoman Chelsea Whittington for Cedric Kuykendall, demolition coordinator for the city.

Whittington said it’s Kuykendall’s time to shine as about 379 blighted homes in the city will be demolished in the first phase of a $6.6 million grant Gary received in May under a state and federal program. The first two properties were demolished recently on Virginia Street in the city’s Emerson neighborhood.

If not for the Indiana Hardest Hit Fund Blight Elimination program, a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Treasury and the Indiana Housing Community Development Authority, Kuykendall would be working with only about a $300,000 budget from a Community Development Block Grant program. Those funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development would allow him to demolish about 30 to 45 properties.

“You wouldn’t see a dent,” Kuykendall told The Times (https://bit.ly/1satGcU ).

With the Hardest Hit funds, Kuykendall hopes to see between 900 to 1,000 blighted homes in the city demolished.

“I have in my head November 2015 as a deadline for all those properties,” he said.

Drive around the city with Kuykendall and he can point out pretty much every blighted property and provide a status for its demolition. Without looking at a list, he can provide addresses for the next 38 vacant homes to be torn down as part of the grant program that have been bid out to demolition contractors.

Demolition is going to occur in “packages.”

“Instead of going around the city getting a house here and a house there, we’re trying to group them together so residents will see a significant difference,” Kuykendall said.

About 11 properties along three blocks of Virginia Street are scheduled to go soon.

“In three months, there should be a significant difference in how the Emerson area looks,” Kuykendall said.

The average cost for properties to be demolished is about $13,000. Depending on the size, some cost $15,000 to $17,000. They’re all residential units as the Hardest Hit funds do not cover commercial properties. Monies for those come from the CDBG grant.

There’s a lot that goes into demolishing a property, Kuykendall said, including hearings that property owners must attend to state their intentions for their buildings.

Some properties may have taxes tied into a mortgage that can still be paid.

Kuykendall said some owners may have no intentions for their property and will deed it over to the city if it’s in a project targeted demolition area. And if it’s in deplorable condition and in danger of collapsing or severely burned: “I can go ahead and proceed with demo,” he said.

One of those is a former restaurant at 1744 Broadway. It’s collapsed and “almost falling in the street.”

“That’s an emergency,” Kuykendall said.

The city also has its own in-house demolition team - made up of only several people and old equipment.

“We’re trying to get a grant now to purchase some new equipment,” Kuykendall said.

Kuykendall said he has his in-house team focused on smaller projects like garages and burnouts.

“That will keep them busy,” he said.

Kuykendall said there are between 8,000 to 10,000 vacant buildings in Gary. That should keep him busy.

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Information from: The Times, https://www.thetimesonline.com

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