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PostSubject: Jackson deal 'fairly dead in the water'   Sun Jun 05, 2011 3:53 pm

Councilwoman: Jackson deal 'fairly dead in the water'

GARY | One phrase appears multiple times in a deal between Gary and the Jackson Family Foundation: "Time is of the essence."

Yet a year after Gary agreed to give the unknown Las Vegas group hundreds of city acres, even organizers admit little has been done.

Gary Economic Development Director Joel Rodriguez called the project "still in preliminary stages."

"There's a lot of components as part of this particular project," Rodriguez said. "We're here to help them."

While Rodriguez expressed optimism, some Gary City Council members call the deal all but dead.

"As far as we're concerned, nothing has happened," said Councilwoman Marilyn Krusas, D-1st. "I consider it fairly dead in the water."

Sounding the trumpets

On June 2, 2010, a year after former Gary resident and music icon Michael Jackson died, the city teamed with the Jackson Family Foundation -- led by Jackson patriarch Joe Jackson and Vegas developer Simon Sahouri -- in the hopes of building a $300 million megaplex dedicated to the King of Pop and his family.

The ambitious museum, theater and casino campus was touted as not only a memorial to Gary's most famous former resident but also as a way to restore Gary to its fruitful glory.

Months of seeming inaction and false starts followed.

"I think some of the press announcements were premature because of the financial condition this whole country is in," Krusas said.

Another deadline has come and gone. The city set May 31 for the group to resolve vital nonprofit status issues. It remains unclear if that happened.

City spokeswoman LaLosa Burns declined to comment or make Mayor Rudy Clay available to discuss the project, referring questions to Sahouri.

Burns and Rodriguez said Sahouri would be in Gary last week. Sahouri has not returned multiple calls from The Times during the past several months, including last week.

What's in a name?

To get 300 acres of city land at Interstate 94 and Broadway, the foundation must be 501(c)(3) tax-exempt -- a nonprofit tax group.

Attempting to attain the status has not been without drama.

In December, the foundation merged with an existing nonprofit, officers of which The Times revealed had faced fraud accusations.

City officials said the blunder would be fixed, and the foundation would go solo.

"They have their federal not-for-profit status from the IRS," Rodriguez said recently.

Internal Revenue Service records, however, do not list any tax-exempt Jackson-named group in Indiana.

The Times requested, but was not provided, proof of the group's status from the city. After an initial interview, Rodriguez did not return Times calls.

Time is money

The agreement signed a year ago offers incentives for meeting various deadlines.

It dangles property tax freedom as a carrot for construction. The land's tax-exempt status will lapse, for example, if construction doesn't start within two years of escrow closing.

Gary city attorney Susan Severtson did not respond to a Times request last week for more information on the escrow, which was supposed to close within 30 days of the June 2010 signing.

Also under the deal, Sahouri was to "make every good faith effort" to complete a feasibility study within eight months of signing.

San Jose, Calif.-based Aucopia Global LLC was contracted to conduct the study.

"We haven't been told anything at this particular point," Aucopia Director Frank Podesta said last week. "We're sitting by and doing nothing.

"We've been in waiting mode for them to get all their stuff together," he added. "We're in a holding pattern to see if it's even going to happen."

No dice?

According to Krusas, it won't.

The plan likely stalled after the Indiana General Assembly rejected a land-based casino in Gary, she said.

"I think that the whole project was predicated on (a casino)," she said.

"We all have great ideas, but if you don't have the money to do the development without any assistance, then all it is is an idea."

Councilwoman Carolyn Rogers, D-4th, said a Jackson venue "absolutely" should be a Steel City priority.

"It doesn't have to be this project, but there needs to be something in the city of Gary," she said.
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