Casino firm still pursuing land for Hard Rock project; NISPCO site work underway

Thursday 28th November 2019

GARY -- John Keeler, Spectacle Entertainment vice president and general counsel, said the company continues to assemble all the land desired for the city's prized Hard Rock-branded casino project.

Records show Spectacle acquired several key parcels for the project beginning in December 2018, but the casino firm still desires adjacent property for construction staging and other needs.

One of those properties is owned by Andrew Young, a bankrupt real estate investor with more than 1,400 properties in Gary and elsewhere in Lake County. He's been battling the county and township for years over what he calls unfair property tax assessments.

Records show Young entered into a purchase agreement with the casino firm in February, but because Young is in bankruptcy, any property sale must be approved by the courts.

Young recently filed a motion to sell 1.5 acres at 2901 Tompkins St. for $100,000 -- when the assessed value is estimated to be only $3,300 by the county assessor's office.

As a creditor in Young's bankruptcy case, the Lake County Treasurer's Office is objecting to Young's recent request in court, arguing the property could generate a greater value "if the sale were to be subject to market forces."

Putting Young's properties to a free market appears to be what the county has in mind as the treasurer's office recently asked a bankruptcy court judge to convert Young's case from a Chapter 11 to a Chapter 7 -- effectively liquidating his assets and freeing his properties up for auction at the county's tax sale events, held every year.

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For years now, Young's serial bankruptcies have effectively barred the county from auctioning off his properties. Now, he's trying to sell 2901 Tompkins St. to the casino firm to shore funds to pay back some of his creditors.

Young has argued in court the property sale is in the best interest of his bankruptcy estate because it will generate net proceeds of at least $95,000 after closing costs and tax prorations and provide money to pay down creditors, records show.

In a Nov. 18 court filing, the treasurer argued Young has failed to pay his taxes on this property and all others under his ownership and requested any net proceeds from 2901 Tompkins St. be immediately paid to the treasurer to pay Young's taxes due.

Young sued the county in 2011 in federal bankruptcy court, alleging the county and Calumet Township assessors systematically raised his property assessments as part of a political vendetta against him.

As Spectacle continues land assemblage, preliminary work appears to be underway at the site near 29th Avenue and Burr Street in Gary. NIPSCO workers could be seen on site last week identifying and marking with spray paint the location of underground pipelines -- a critical step ahead of construction.

Multiple investors are expected to finance the casino and entertainment phase of the project, which Spectacle has said it hopes to open on Dec. 31, 2020.

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