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Gary seeing green with historic gaming bill

By Giavonni Nickson

Giavonni Nickson

The City of Gary continues to gain support from Indiana lawmakers in response to the city’s economic development proposal for Buffington Harbor.

On Wednesday, February 6, 2019, the Indiana Senate Public Policy Committee passed Senate Bill 552 with a 10-0 vote. Pronounced the biggest gaming bill in the history of the legislature, Senate Bill 552 is a gaming proposal that will drastically change the laws surrounding casinos and sports wagering in the state of Indiana.

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said, “This the first step of many, but the citizens of Gary should be encouraged by the Public Policy Committee’s unanimous vote.”

Senate Bill 552 will allow a casino license to move the city’s gaming from Buffington Harbor to a site on Interstate 80-94, and a second license to move to a location at least 75 miles away from Gary, thereby opening the door for the development of an intermodal transportation hub in Buffington Harbor.

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, Gary Council President Ron Brewer, Gary Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Chuck Hughes and Senator Earline Rogers joined Senator Eddie Melton in presenting testimony at the first hearing of Senate Bill 552.

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said, “Lawmakers acknowledge the importance of the Buffington Harbor development for local residents and the entire state of Indiana.”

In October 2018, the Interim Study Committee on Commerce and Economic Development reviewed the assets of the Buffington Harbor area and determined that there was merit in the creation of an intermodal hub. The Committee also found that it was optimal to move the Majestic Star Casinos to an alternative location in the city.

Gary’s plans to move The Majestic Star riverboat casinos from Buffington Harbor to Interstate 80-94, one of the country’s busiest highways, will increase the casino’s visibility and make it more accessible to the more than 300,000 vehicles that travel the expressway each day.

State Senator Eddie Melton, one of the co-authors of the proposal said, “This is a huge first step in a transformational project that would greatly impact Northwest Indiana as well as the entire state.”

According to Sen. Melton, “SB 552 will provide a drastic increase in gaming revenue that would, in turn, provide additional revenue to the city to address its fiscal needs. Additionally, 400 new gaming jobs will be added to the casino’s existing 800 jobs, created by the larger and more optimally located casino. Moreover, many new construction jobs will be made available through the development of these projects.”

New jobs creation is a part of Gary’s plan to revitalize the city. Senator Melton will work to create a workforce development strategy to ensure that Gary residents and those who live in the surrounding area have access to new jobs created by the casino’s new site development.

Spectacle Entertainment, the purchaser of Majestic Star Casinos, has a $300 million development plan to construct a boutique casino which includes a unique and inviting casino floor, 200-room hotel, parking garage, meeting rooms, entertainment options, restaurants, and lounges.

The City of Gary is focused on the value proposition of the casino move, along with the industrial and commercial development of Buffington Harbor. The city anticipates additional job creation and exponential growth with the commercial and industrial development of the Buffington Harbor area. The opportunities are endless because of the proximity of water, highway, rail and air transportation.

Senator Melton has worked with stakeholders to craft a proposal to maximize the undeveloped assets Buffington Harbor offers through land, water and rail.

There has been significant growth and increased revenue in the City of Gary through both public and private investments at the Gary Chicago International Airport. City government officials expect to see similar growth opportunities in Buffington Harbor.

Senate Bill 552 will now head to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Valentine’s Day for a closer look at the measure’s impact on state revenue.

Mayor Freeman Wilson is working collaboratively to improve Senate Bill 66

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson released a statement following the introduction of Indiana Senate Bill 66 entitled Economic Development in Gary.

The Bill proposes the transfer of Buffington Harbor land to a Trans-Modal Compact which would be governed by a Compact board. Mayor Freeman-Wilson expressed grave concern about the composition of the board. “The Compact board composition proposed in the first draft of the Bill is not acceptable. This is not reflective of how I would like to work with the state on behalf of the citizens of our city,” stated Freeman-Wilson.

The mayor said the city is in active negotiations with Senator Mishler, the Bill’s author. “I look forward to working with our own Senator Eddie Melton and the Bill’s author to make the Bill more reflective of a partnership that will benefit the citizens of Gary,” said Freeman-Wilson.

Senate Bill 66 also speaks to the move of Gary casino licenses out of Buffington Harbor to other locations to allow for economic development along the city’s shoreline. It proposes that one license would remain in Gary along 80/94 and the second license would move to another location.

The passing of Senate Bill 552 and the introduction of Senate Bill 66 will help the City of Gary take leaps along the proposed path of economic development as a part of its focused revitalization plans.

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