INDIANAPOLIS — A new government entity, composed of local and state officials, would be in charge of developing the Gary lakeshore and airport once the Majestic Star casinos are moved inland, under legislation unveiled this week at the Statehouse.
Senate Bill 66 establishes the Gary Indiana Transmodal Compact "to oversee, direct, support, coordinate and plan for the development, enhancement and operation of infrastructure" at Buffington Harbor, adjacent rail yards and the Gary/Chicago International Airport.
State Sen. Ryan Mishler, R-Bremen, the Appropriations Committee chairman and sponsor of the measure, said the plan is to create a single entity responsible for the overall development of alternative facilities to the crowded Chicago rail yards that could lure businesses to instead transfer, warehouse and ship their products at Gary.
"The goal here is to try to bring people in to develop the harbor and use the harbor, to develop the airport a little more and use the airport, and the same with the rail," Mishler said.
The compact would not displace or take over any local government functions, though the legislation does permit the compact to purchase or lease local government property as part of its overall mission to manage the development of Gary transmodal facilities.
Under the plan, the compact would be led by a seven-member board, with two members, including the chairman, chosen by Democratic Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and five directly or indirectly selected by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb.
The compact board could appoint an executive director to oversee day-to-day operations, as well as establish a steering committee for guidance with representatives from a variety of local, regional and state development and governmental organizations.
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"It's something that we've actually been working on for probably well over a year," Mishler said. "Senate leadership went up to Gary last summer and toured the area, and we kind of looked at that harbor as a great place for economic development."
Lakeshore projects initially would be funded through a mandatory annual payment by the owner of the second Gary casino license that's expected to be relocated outside the city once the two Majestic Star boats are consolidated at a Gary land-based site.
The measure also permits the compact to sell bonds that would be repaid through the lease of buildings and other facilities developed by the compact.
The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to review the proposal Thursday.
Freeman-Wilson said Tuesday that while she is eager to partner with the state to fully develop Gary's transportation assets, she does not believe the legislation, as currently written, matches her vision for the city's lakeshore development.
State Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, has similar concerns. However, he stressed it still is early in the legislative process, and Mishler has made clear that he is open to revisions if they boost Gary's prospects.
"I think this is a very preliminary document," Melton said. "I'm confident that we'll get to something that's comfortable, that's going to benefit the city and the overall economic development."