Slice of Neverland pitched for Gary

Theme park, golf course added to crowded drawing board for Jackson museum
2009-12-30T00:05:00Z Slice of Neverland pitched for GaryBy Marisa Kwiatkowski - marisa.kwiatkowski@nwi.com, (219) 662-5333 nwitimes.com

GARY | Plans for a Jackson family museum and performing arts center are alive and well, city and project officials said Tuesday.

Gary Mayor Rudy Clay and Odie Anderson, listed agent for the Jackson Museum Performing Arts Center Corp., refuted recent rumors that officials had abandoned plans to build the museum in Gary. The rumor was circulated in an e-mail Tuesday and received by The Times.

"There's not a truth to it," Anderson said.

Anderson said those involved in the planning process want to expand the Gary project to include a golf course and a replica of the Neverland Ranch estate and personal theme park in southern California that Michael Jackson called home for nearly two decades.

Ideas for the project bloomed after Jackson's death June 25. The King of Pop spent his early years in the Steel City.

Gary officials previously said the Jackson project would be built on a 10-acre stretch the city owns between City Hall and the Genesis Convention Center.

Kim Bray, executive assistant at Asbury Park, N.J.-based Sand and Stone Construction, previously estimated the cost of the project between $20 million and $30 million. Current estimates were not available Tuesday.

Anderson said officials will begin construction of the facilities next year. He said a specific date, "tied to a special Jackson event," has been set for the groundbreaking, but he could not yet share it.

Plans for a 2010 groundbreaking came as a surprise to at least one city official, who said she has yet to receive any details on the project.

Gary Councilwoman Marilyn Krusas said she is not opposed to it but wants to be included in the exploratory process before voting on it.

The Gary City Council would need to approve transferring the 10 city-owned acres for the project. Clay previously said the "majority" of council members are behind it as long as it is built without taxpayer money.

"We have heard absolutely nothing about it," Krusas said. "I know I certainly haven't. At this point, I think the council and the citizenry need to know a lot more information -- like who's going to finance it and who's going to pay for it -- before we start giving land away."

Krusas also said she had trouble comprehending how an amusement park and golf course would fit on 10 acres. Other council members could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

Officials affiliated with the Tinley Park, Ill.-based Jackson Museum and Performing Arts Corp. and a separate nonprofit foundation have been seeking donations for the project since the summer.

Requests for contributions have been made to Michael Jackson groups on Facebook and MySpace.

Johnny Brenden, president and CEO of Brenden Theatres Corp., donated $10,000 to the project during a Las Vegas news conference in October.

Anderson said "not one penny of that has been touched, period.

"The project will be something that will be very, very sweeping and will be something that will be honoring to the city of Gary, honoring to the Jackson family and something people will be talking about for years to come," Anderson said.

BIG DREAMS

Planners of a proposed Jackson family museum and performing arts center in Gary want to add a golf course and a replica of the Neverland Ranch estate and personal theme park in southern California that Michael Jackson called home for nearly two decades.

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