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11/9/2018 11:53:00 AM
Hobart eyes partnership with Merrillville in bid for convention center, casino
Land that was formerly occupied by the Radisson Hotel in Merrillville is now being considered as a site for the Farm at the Crossroads, a new While Lodging development. (Suzanne Tennant/Post-Tribune)
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Land that was formerly occupied by the Radisson Hotel in Merrillville is now being considered as a site for the Farm at the Crossroads, a new While Lodging development. (Suzanne Tennant/Post-Tribune)

Karen Caffarini, Post-Tribune Correspondent

The resolution also asked the Lake County Council and Indiana General Assembly to support the plan and to provide the funding necessary to implement it.

"I think it's important we get on record saying we can do some pretty spectacular things there if given the chance," said Councilman Dave Vinzant, D-4th, who spearheaded the resolution.

"We want to work with everyone with a vested interest in that situation," Vinzant said, adding the resolution doesn't say the council is coming out in favor of a certain development or certain tax.

"We're just asking that we be able to work cooperatively with Merrillville, to have an open dialogue on ways the two communities can work together," Mayor Brian Snedecor said.

Merrillville Town Councilman Shawn Pettit, D-6th, said the concept is a good idea, but questioned how they would get everyone together under the Open Meetings Act and considering there are seven council members in Merrillville and no mayor.

Pettit said The Farm at Crossroads Commons and a proposed convention center are both in his ward.

"We haven't even broached the subject of a casino license," he said.

Merrillville and Hobart have three of five finalist sites chosen for a possible 145,000-square-foot convention center in an independent study that was completed this summer.

The top site, the former Radisson acreage at U.S. 30 and I-65, is being proposed by owners White Lodging of Merrillville to be transformed into The Farm at Crossroads Commons, a $350 million multi-use destination location that would include meeting and event centers, upscale hotels, offices and an equestrian center, among other uses.

Owners of the second site, the former Century Mall location at U.S. 30 and Broadway in Merrillville, have expressed an interest in turning the vacant 140,000-square-foot Burlington Coat Factory building there into a convention center while retaining a strip center, Portillo's restaurant and other outbuildings on site. No plans have been presented as yet, though.

The third best location mentioned in the report is the Silverstone property just north of U.S. 30 and east of Mississippi in Hobart. The City of Hobart and developer Al Krygier had both expressed an interest in that property being chosen for a convention center that would handle sports and other events.

However, Krygier said recently that he's not sure if he'll propose a convention center at the site in the near future, given the cost and size of the undertaking.

"It's such a big undertaking. There would need to be a lot of parties involved," Krygier said.

He said he's had some meetings with various officials about a possible convention center, but nothing has materialized as yet.

The Majestic Star Casinos property at Buffington Harbor in Gary and Kennedy Avenue and Interstate 80-94 in Hammond were the other two finalists named.

The City of Gary is looking at turning Buffington Harbor into an intermodal facility and moving the casinos to a land-based location.

There has been no word on the Hammond property, but Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., has stated that he believes the city should be given the second casino license if Majestic Star is allowed to move.

Hobart's resolution points out that Hammond already has one active casino license, for the Horseshoe casino, and that other licenses are held in East Chicago and Gary, with no other casino heading east until Blue Chip in Michigan City.

"It would seem appropriate to move the unused license to a location east of Gary, such as Hobart," the resolution stated.

Pettit said much of what is proposed would require some public funding, such as a food and beverage tax that would need to be passed by the Lake County Council.

The county council has been unwilling to pass the tax in the past and White Lodging representatives on Thursday were again rebuffed.

"In my opinion, you just can't do (these projects) without a private/public partnership," Pettit said.

He said the 1 percent food and beverage tax would add $1.50 to a $150 restaurant bill.

He said both construction and full-time jobs with the proposed developments would be filled by people from throughout the region, not just Merrillville residents.

Related Stories:
• Hammond council 'all in' as city seeks Gary's second gaming license
• State lawmakers endorse vision for Gary intermodal facility at Buffington Harbor
• Hammond mayor wants Majestic Star Casino's second gaming license
• Gary hoping legislature will allow Majestic Star Casino move
• Gary officials seek casino move, freight hub for Buffington Harbor
• Key state lawmaker has open mind on Gary casino move, shifting second license

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Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR


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