CROWN POINT — The Lake County Council put up a roadblock to White Lodging's plans for the Interstate 65 and U.S. 30 interchange on Thursday, when most members said they would not support a food and beverage tax to help subsidize the company's proposed $350 million development.
White Lodging's executive leading the effort to develop The Farm at Crossroad Commons said he was disappointed by the council's reaction.
"What I heard is, no, there's not an immediate appetite to do this," said Deno Yiankes, president and CEO of White's investment and development division. "I just didn't walk away optimistic that was going to happen."
Yiankes told the council that, with the demolition of the "functionally obsolete" Radisson Hotel, followed by the Star Plaza and now the Twin Towers, an opening exists to develop the property in a way that will be impactful for 40 or 50 years.
"We're here to suggest to you this is probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Yiankes told council members at their monthly study session.
White Lodging has committed to financing two-thirds of the development, but is asking for some of the proceeds from a county food and beverage tax as part of a public funding package.
The county council, though, has never warmed to the idea of a food and beverage tax, which would be applied to prepared food at restaurants. Council President David Hamm, D-1st, put the issue simply.
"I'd love a convention center. I'm not in favor of a food and beverage tax," he said.
Councilman Ted Bilski, D-6th, was the only council member to say he could support a tax, which he noted would total 30 cents on a $30 restaurant check at a 1-percent rate.
"I do support a food and beverage tax, but I want it distributed to all taxing units," Bilski said. He said each of the county's municipalities should have an opportunity to petition for funding assistance for projects to promote tourism.
But Bilski noted there wasn't a consensus on the council about a convention center.
Councilwoman Christine Cid, D-5th, said she hasn't been convinced.
"I do not want to rush this," she said.
Supporters cite opportunity
White Lodging describes The Farm at Crossroad Commons' event center, hotels, restaurants, underground parking, office and residential space and amenities involving agriculture, the arts and recreation as a "transformational" investment.
A study commissioned by the company suggests the development could create more than 600 construction jobs and ultimately more then 1,000 jobs directly and indirectly.
The plan has attracted support from groups including building trades unions, which were well-represented in the audience at Thursday's council session, and from the Crossroads Regional Chamber of Commerce.
A Crossroads chamber survey showed 90 percent support among members responding. The Merrillville-based chamber's survey showed 73 percent support for the food and beverage tax. Its board of directors recently approved a letter to the county council supporting the project.
"It is imperative that the state and county come together and commit the necessary financial resources for this project," chamber President and CEO Sue Reed wrote. "The Crossroads Regional Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors urges you to approve a funding mechanism for this project. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity."
Yiankes said White Lodging bears no ill-will toward the county if the Farm project doesn't proceed. Instead, the company would pursue a more traditional, less dense project.
"It won't be anywhere near the scale of what we've been shooting for," Yiankes said.