GARY, Ind. (CBS) — Those behind plans for a Hard Rock Casino and Hotel in Gary are gambling on its success.
They hope it will finally be the project to spur economic development in the struggling city. But as CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov reported Tuesday, Gary has been down this promised path before – and many ask why this time will be different.
The proposed site sits mostly vacant and overgrown – nestled against the Borman Expressway. But in 18 months, the desolate plot of land in Gary may become a bustling Hard Rock Casino.
When asked if he thought the casino would be good for Gary, mayoral candidate Jerome Prince said, “I think so, in a few ways – not in the traditional sense.”
Prince is the Democratic nominee for mayor, but is running unopposed in November. He said the proposed new land-based casino will not necessarily rack up tens of millions in new revenue.
However, Prince said, “There’s the prospect of ancillary development outside the footprint of the casino, and so I’m pretty excited about it.”
The Hard Rock Casino would replace the two Majestic boat casinos currently located in Gary’s Buffington Harbor.
“It’s a totally undesirable industrial location, while nobody would want to go there,” said John Keeler, Vice President of Spectacle Entertainment, on why the new location is key.
In addition to a possible 1,000 new jobs, Keeler believes the casino and hotel can offset some of Gary’s current economic blight, even though Chicago casino plans may be in the works.
“One of Gary’s biggest problems is they don’t have any revenue. They don’t have any revenue because a lot of people don’t pay property taxes,” Keeler said. “So the casino will be a source of increased revenue if it’s successful.”
Yet 24 years ago, similar hopes were voiced by now-president, and then-businessman, Donald Trump. He opened a Gary casino and hotel, which he sold to Majestic in 2005.
Trump bailed before fulfilling a promise to rehab Gary’s Sheraton Hotel, which current Mayor Karen Freeman Wilson later had torn down.
“In my harshest estimation, he made his comeback on the backs of Gary residents,” Freeman Wilson said of Trump.
When asked if it concerned him that Trump’s plans for Gary did not come to fruition, Keeler said, “I wouldn’t want to speak ill of the president.”
Put a different way, Kozlov asked Keeler, are Gary’s economic obstacles insurmountable?
“No. I mean, I think Gary’s had some good leadership,” Keeler said. “There’s a lot of support at the statehouse for Gary.”
Gary and Indiana’s gaming commission still have to pass the plan for the casino, which is expected to happen in the next months or so. Afterward, construction could begin – likely well before plans for a Chicago casino are even remotely off the ground.
If passed, developers say the new casino would be built and opened first. The hotel would come later.