Sources: NWI.com – By Joseph Pete | All Things Michael
Gary’s Miller neighborhood never suffered the same degree of decline and blight as the rest of the city, quite possibly because of all that spectacular Lake Michigan beachfront.
But things looked dire just five years ago when the iconic Miller Bakery Cafe closed.
The restaurant was a regional draw, a place you dressed up for on a date night. Chicagoans even came to dine there. The fine dining restaurant, known for its steaks, seafood and cocktails, was the pride of the free-spirited beachfront neighborhood on Gary’s eastern end.
Concerned residents decided something had to be done. They scoured around for ideas for urban revitalization, and found the arts worked. So they formed the Miller Beach Arts and Creative District in 2011 to lure people in with gallery exhibits, murals and a popular farmers market every Sunday between May and September.
The closing of the Miller Bakery Cafe, which has since reopened under new management, galvanized efforts in Miller to spur more economic development, which have lured in 10 new businesses and brought vitality back to the main commercial drag on Lake Street.
“It was a big hole on Lake Street,” said Miller Beach Arts and Creative District President Karren Lee, who’s lived in the neighborhood since 1966. “It was becoming a ghost town.”
The Miller Beach Arts and Creative District was created to bring such stores back to the neighborhood, so residents don’t have to visit neighboring towns to do all their shopping, Creative District Executive Director Meg Roman Roman said.
“There’s been a significant increase in new people coming to the community and people who moved away rediscovering Miller,” Roman said.
Despite uncooperative weather, more than 1,000 people turned out to the recent Lake Effekt graffiti expo. The Jackson 5 mural artist Felix Maldonado painted next to the Miller Bakery Cafe on Lake Street during the event has since been a huge draw.
“There’s all the restaurants and the public art from the graffiti artists,” she said. “They’re doing fashion shoots in front of the artwork, and taking pictures of the Michael Jackson mural every day. The beach is a big draw with one of the best views of Chicago. The park has bike paths. There are plenty of physical activities and cultural things in the neighborhood. There’s shopping. It’s becoming well-rounded.”
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