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Atty. Rinzer Williams, left, and Councilman Mike Brown chat following Tuesday’s city council meeting

Gary Common Council seals Hard Rock Casino building plan

Contributed By:The 411 News

Spectacle vice president defends Atty. Rinzer Williams

Tuesday’s special and short meeting of the Gary City Council gave the go-ahead for the new owner of Majestic Star Casinos to begin construction of phase one of the $300 million Hard Rock Casino in Gary, at Burr Street and I-80/94.

The council’s unanimous approval was the final step that Spectacle Entertainment needed for Wednesday’s meeting with the Indiana Gaming Commission, to gain the commission’s consent to relocate the Gary casino to land and to submit an application to the commission to move Gary’s second casino license to downstate Terre Haute in Vigo County.

Spectacle Entertainment is based in Terre Haute.

The special meeting was needed because all details of the local development agreement (LDA) between the City of Gary and Spectacle Entertainment had not been finalized when 2 ordinances, one creating a casino district and the other relocating the casino to land, were delayed for a vote at last week’s regular city council meeting.

Holding back last week’s city council vote was the city’s quest for the LDA to include a $5 million advance payment from Spectacle instead of receiving the monies in monthly installments during the year.

Council members didn’t like hearing what 4th District Councilman Carolyn Rogers described as “off the top of your head what’s in the LDA” from Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson’s chief of staff Dana Bennett and Spectacle Entertainment’s vice president and counselor John Keeler. They wanted to see it in writing.

“If last week’s vote was postponed because of the LDA,” said Rogers, “then where is the LDA?”

“I don’t think the council should be treated like this. I’m glad this is on tape so the public can see,” said Councilman Mike Brown. “Moving forward, this needs to stop.”

Bennett said the council will see the LDA “well in advance” of next week’s regular city council meeting when it comes up for their approval. Gary City Council President Ron Brewer reminded his members that the LDA has to be approved by the city council.

“The updated LDA includes the $5 million advance payment and guaranteed minimum, specific hiring goals for Gary residents and businesses, hiring goals for construction workers, and commitment around a community development fund,” Bennett said.

“The LDA was only finalized between 3 and 4 p.m. today,” Keeler told the city council. “Gary will get a $6.1 million yearly contribution from Spectacle instead of $5 million regardless of what we earn, plus increased revenues from higher adjusted gross revenues, higher admissions revenue, and sports betting revenues.”

The first five operators of sports betting will be Indiana Grand, in Shelbyville; Ameristar Casino, East Chicago, and Hollywood Casino, Lawrenceburg, on Sept. 1, followed by Horseshoe Hammond, Hammond, on Sept. 4 and French Lick, in French Lick, on Sept. 6. Mobile phone sports betting has not been finalized.

Ground breaking could come in September for the new casino with a December 2020 completion date.

Keeler also commented on the brouhaha surrounding Atty. Rinzer Williams after a NWI Times article told of the attorney’s connections to a company that has purchased large amounts of Gary’s vacant and abandoned properties off the county’s delinquent property tax rolls, some near Spectacle’s new casino.

“We hired Rinzer Williams to do the zoning work on the casino district ordinance for us,” Keeler said. “I have never seen a lawyer that went to a greater expanse to try and make sure, from an ethical point of view, touched every base. He disclosed to us all his conflicts of interest; everything he has done has been above board and met the highest ethical standards. I wanted to tell you that since he has been beaten up in the papers.”

The NWI Times story, “Connected attorney behind tax sale land grabs near casino site,” included possible conflicts of interest statements by some Gary public officials because of Williams work with Spectacle and the city. Williams is also the city council’s attorney.

Following the council meeting, Williams said, “I only helped Spectacle review the city’s casino district ordinance because they had never done one before. And as a private citizen I have every right to invest my money where I choose.” Williams said none of the county’s tax sale properties he purchased are in the casino district footprint.

First District City Councilwoman Rebecca Wyatt and Sixth District City Councilwoman LaVetta Sparks-Wade had told the Times they questioned the ethics of Williams, the council’s legal adviser, investing in land that the city’s redevelopment arm was looking to acquire.

Asked after the meeting if the temperature had lowered on Williams’ conflict of interest, Sparks-Wade said, “Mr. Keeler’s statements lowered my inhibitions a little bit and I’m glad.”

Sparks-Wade said she had received an anonymous email about a company purchasing a large number of tax delinquent and vacant properties in Gary. Then, the NWI Times called and gave her more information, Sparks-Wade said. “I even talked to Rinzer about what I had learned and he told me his company had started buying properties before the casino.”

Williams’ company Broadway Logistics Complex, LLC, has purchased hundreds of properties that the city’s Redevelopment Commission was planning to obtain through donations or purchases from Lake County. Nearly 4 years ago, the city structured an agreement with MaiaCo, a real estate investment corporation to help return thousands of Gary’s properties to the tax rolls.

Williams said MaiaCo didn’t do its job to help obtain those properties for the Redevelopment Commission. He described it as one speculator besting another speculator.

Story Posted:08/29/2019

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