GARY | Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said Monday she is optimistic the city will continue to improve its reputation in the business community this year as key economic development projects are completed and as benefits are realized from local, state and federal partnerships.
But aside from these opportunities, Freeman-Wilson told an audience at a Gary Chamber of Commerce meeting a key part of her administration's agenda is pushing the Indiana General Assembly to pass legislation that would create a land-based casino and have studies completed on the feasibility of building a new port on Lake Michigan and a Level 1 trauma center in Northwest Indiana.
Indiana State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, is sponsoring Senate Bill 585, which would require the owner of a Gary gaming vessel to submit a plan to move one of two casinos away from Lake Michigan to build a new land-based operation. The move would be done on the condition it is the only lakefront casino to operate on land.
The bill proposes to change the current composition of the Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority board. Instead of seven members, the board would have 11 members, including five appointed by the governor. A six-person majority would be required to authorize any action and "certain matters" such as acquiring property and entering into contracts would require an affirmative vote from the governor appointee serving as the board chair. Current board appointments also would be terminated as of Jan. 1, 2014.
Also, the Ports of Indiana Commission would have to complete the port feasibility study by Dec. 1, 2013, and the Indiana State Department of Health would be expected to complete the trauma center study by Nov. 1, 2015. Both reports would be made to the General Assembly's budget committee.
While her administration is interested in the legislation being approved, she said guessing what ultimately will happen is akin to visiting the casino and she admitted the provision could change as the measure is debated.
"It is legislation that is contemplated to help the city of Gary," Freeman-Wilson told more than 100 people Monday at the Steel City Buffet and Grill.
Freeman-Wilson said the business community can take pride in the efforts to complete large scale projects within the city. She said she's confident that long delayed runway expansion plans at the Gary/Chicago International Airport and the remainder of improvements to sections of Marquette Park will be complete by the end of the year.
After more than two decades of failed development plans or promises to raze the site, Freeman-Wilson said she expects the abandoned Sheraton hotel near City Hall could be demolished by June 30, garnering audience applause. She told The Times last month the total project cost could be between $1.2 million and $1.3 million, which be funded from money obtained from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority.
Partnerships with academic institutions such as the University of Chicago and former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley has prompted interest among other higher education institutions to help analyze and solve city challenges, the mayor said. Freeman-Wilson quipped that she welcomed the relationships because "there's plenty of work to go around."