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Hard Rock Gary renditions

This rendering shows how the Hard Rock Casino Gary is likely to look in 2023 or 2024, with the added Hard Rock Hotel tower on the left and the attached parking garage on the right. The main casino building and associated amenities, including a Hard Rock Cafe and Hard Rock Live performance venue, are slated to open Dec. 31, 2020. The casino faces 29th Avenue in Gary, Burr Street is on the right and the casino will be visible from the Borman Expressway at the back of the image.

GARY — The City Council gave the green light Tuesday night to rezoning 30 acres near Interstate 80/94 and Burr Street for the planned Hard Rock Casino, despite complaints the administration never supplied members with critical documents.

The 9-0 vote reportedly came mere hours after Spectacle Entertainment and Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson's administration inked a new local development agreement in which the city would get a $5 million advance on gaming revenue, possibly in the form of a loan. The city would also hold the company to local hiring goals.

The amended local development agreement (LDA) was inked so late in the day that council members were not provided a copy of the document before the vote.

Councilman Michael Brown said it wasn’t right for the council “to be treated like this.”

“The administration has the responsibility to bring the proper paperwork before us. We have waited, and we have been very patient,” Brown said. “The good part is this is being (video) recorded, so for the record, people see it, but the bad part is, it shows that no one’s showing respect to the council.”

"I would say moving forward that this needs to stop," he said. 

The council was under pressure Tuesday night to vote on the land rezoning because it was a precondition for the Indiana Gaming Commission to give final approval at its meeting the following day in Indianapolis. 

The council’s vote had already been delayed a week due to hang-ups with the local development agreement, which is a contract between the city and its casino that gives a portion of gaming revenue to the city for various economic development and municipal needs.

John Keeler, Spectacle’s attorney, summarized the new terms of the LDA for the council admittedly “off the top of his head." 

He said Spectacle will give a “commercially reasonable best effort” to employ 40% minority business enterprises, 10% women and 5% veterans during the operational and construction phases.

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Under the old LDA, the casino must pay 3% of the casino’s profits and not fall below $6 million. In the new agreement, the casino pays no less than $6.15 million, he said.

Any excess of that will go into a community development fund for use at the casino’s discretion on the health and welfare of city residents, he added. He said Spectacle has also agreed to pay the city’s attorney fees, too.

At-large Council President Ron Brewer said the LDA must still be approved by the council through ordinance. He assured members they would get a copy of the LDA well in advance of any future vote. 

Councilwoman LaVetta Sparks-Wade likened the lack of information Tuesday night to when the administration asked the council years ago to approve a local wheel tax for road improvements, and then turned around two weeks later and requested council approve to borrow against the wheel tax to fund city operations.

“We want all the information at the same time. We know the LDA has a whole lot to do with the casino is able to provide and we want to see it in writing,” she said. 

Though the agreement was not the subject of the vote Tuesday night, some members expressed concern that once the rezoning vote took place, the casino is essentially sure thing and Gary loses all leverage to negotiate terms.

“That’s it. We’re done now,” Sparks-Wade said.

Spectacle expects the Hard Rock Casino Gary will employ approximately 1,800 workers when the property is fully developed, compared to the roughly 900 people currently earning a paycheck at Majestic Star.

The new Gary casino will have up to 2,764 gaming positions, giving it approximately the same capacity as Hammond's Horseshoe Casino, Indiana's revenue leader, and making it about three-fourths the maximum size of the future Chicago casino.

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Northlake County Reporter

Lauren covers North Lake County government, breaking news, crime and environmental issues for The Times. She previously worked at The Herald-News in Joliet. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting.