Hard Rock Casino Gary clears zoning board hurdle, set for review by city council

John Keeler, Spectacle Entertainment vice president and general counsel, speaks Tuesday to the Gary Board of Zoning Appeals about Spectacle's plans to relocate its Majestic Star casinos from Lake Michigan to a land-based site immediately south of the Borman Expressway at the Burr Street exit, and to rebrand them as Hard Rock Casino Gary. 

GARY — The fate of the Hard Rock Casino Gary now is in the hands of the Gary Common Council.

On Tuesday, the Gary Board of Zoning Appeals unanimously endorsed the rezoning of roughly 30 acres of vacant land immediately south of the Borman Expressway at the Burr Street exit for a casino development, instead of light industrial use.

The zoning recommendation, which last week also was approved by the Gary Plan Commission, next goes to the city's legislative body for final approval — possibly as soon as Aug. 20.

The Common Council additionally must adopt a resolution definitively authorizing the relocation of the Majestic Star casinos from Lake Michigan to the proposed casino site at Burr Street and 29th Avenue for the Indiana Gaming Commission to sign off on the move when it meets Aug. 28.

Representatives of Majestic Star owner Spectacle Entertainment told the zoning board that if it receives all the required regulatory approvals, the company hopes to break ground on the $400 million project in late September or October, with a projected opening on Dec. 31, 2020.

The new facility will be the 13th Hard Rock Casino in North America. It will feature up to 2,764 gaming positions; a sports book; four restaurants, including a Hard Rock Cafe; numerous bars; and a 2,000-seat Hard Rock Live entertainment venue, according to Spectacle.

Spectacle said Phase II of the project, slated to open in 2022 or 2023, will add a hotel — a feature present at nearly every other Hard Rock Casino — and replace many of the initial surface parking lots with a parking garage directly connected to other amenities on the property.

The proposed zoning ordinance requires the casino be set back and screened from nearby residences.

However, the casino would be permitted to build its hotel and any signs as high as it wants subject to Federal Aviation Authority regulations, which kick in above 149 feet, or roughly 15 stories.

Rich Zeigler, Spectacle vice president of development, said Hard Rock designers are close to finalizing plans for the exterior and interior look of the new casino.

He said it will be like nothing else in the Region.

"There is a significant investment in the building, very high level of finish, and if you've visited a Hard Rock Casino, a very high standard of customer service," Zeigler said.

No Gary Common Council member has publicly announced any opposition to the casino project.

It strongly is supported by Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson as part of her initiative to clear the current Majestic Star site at Buffington Harbor for redevelopment as an intermodal shipping and warehousing alternative to Chicago.