Gary Eyes Hotel, Marina for Lakefront Development

Sat November 22, 2003 - Midwest Edition

GARY, IN (AP) Construction could begin as early as next spring on a project intended to transform the site of a former cement-making plant into a lakefront development including a hotel, marina and convention center.

“The idea is to build a brand new city right here,” said Majestic Star casino owner Donald Barden, whose company is a major partner in the development at Gary’s Buffington Harbor. Barden and Gary Mayor Scott King discussed the project’s progress Nov. 13 at a news conference.

Officials announced plans for the development in 1999 after Barden’s development company paid the city $25 million for 190 acres formerly owned by Lehigh Portland Cement. Since then, King said, the city has spent $3 million on demolition and another $1.7 million on environmental cleanup before construction could begin.

The northern half of the land has been cleared. Officials said the steel frames of two former cement plant buildings may be used as the basis for two new convention center buildings.

Barden said he plans to build a high-rise hotel east of his casino’s parking garage once he is sure the convention center will be built.

Construction is expected to start next spring on a new road allowing access to the area near Gary’s five riverboat casinos. Work on an 89-slip marina could begin later in the year, officials said. The city plans to seek state aid to develop the marina, which could cost up to $10 million.

A later phase of the project could include a lakefront housing development.

Officials intend to ask the state Legislature to make the site a sales tax increment financing district. That would allow a portion of sales tax revenues to be used to help finance debt from the creation of infrastructure.

Sales tax increment financing was used to help develop the Circle Centre mall in downtown Indianapolis.

“We will be asking the state for nothing more, and nothing less, than what happens in Indianapolis,” King said.

State Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, said she believed officials could make a good case at the Statehouse for such public-private partnership, using Indianapolis’ development as an example.

The development site already is part of an Empowerment Zone, King said, which means tax-free bonds could be used for improvements.