Court rules slice of Hard Rock parking lot not owned by future Gary casino

Saturday 19th December 2020

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Lake Circuit Judge Marissa McDermott ruled Thursday that a company affiliated with Hard Rock Casino owner Spectacle Entertainment failed to follow the proper procedures to acquire a tiny slice of the 30-acre casino site adjacent to the Borman Expressway at Burr Street in Gary.

Dan Carden, The Times

Lake Circuit Judge Marissa McDermott ruled Thursday that a company affiliated with Hard Rock Casino owner Spectacle Entertainment failed to follow the proper procedures to acquire a tiny slice of the 30-acre casino site adjacent to the Borman Expressway at Burr Street in Gary.

Dan Carden, The Times

Windy City Acquisitions, the firm assembling land for the city's prized Hard Rock casino project in Gary, is combating land speculators and heirs to an estate for ownership of blue highlighted land in the project footprint, court records show.

Provided

This rendering shows the entry of the new Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana set to open in spring 2021 adjacent to the Borman Expressway at Burr Street in Gary.

Provided Dan Carden

GARY -- The Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana isn't opening its doors until a few months into the new year. But someone already may have hit a jackpot there.

Lake Circuit Judge Marissa McDermott ruled Thursday that a company affiliated with casino owner Spectacle Entertainment failed to follow the proper procedures to acquire a tiny slice of the 30-acre casino site adjacent to the Borman Expressway at Burr Street.

As a result, McDermott concluded the brother of the original owner, who died in 2013, is entitled to reclaim his interest in the property by paying all past-due taxes, assessments, interest and fees -- opening the door for the land to eventually be properly sold to the casino at a premium price.

The parcel at issue is a 10-foot-wide-by-165-foot-deep lot totaling 0.04 acres located adjacent to the former home of the late Leland Simms at 2865 Dallas St., Gary.

According to court records, it was sold to Alexander Petrovski at the May 22, 2019, Lake County commissioners' tax sale of delinquent parcels for $2,871, and Petrovski subsequently assigned the tax sale certificate to Windy City Acquisitions LLC, the land purchasing arm of Spectacle Entertainment.

Windy City appeared to follow the required notice procedures to secure final possession of the land, and Spectacle eventually cleared the property of trees and other structures to use for a portion of the casino parking lot on the far west edge of the $300 million development.

However, Lloyd Simms, brother of the deceased property owner, argued the notice was insufficient, and he asked McDermott for an opportunity to reclaim the land from the delinquent property list by paying the back taxes and other fees.

Federal and state law mandates that property owners, and any person with an ownership interest in a property, be given multiple notices at various stages of the tax sale process to ensure the government is not unlawfully depriving the owner of his or her property.

In a 16-page ruling, cosigned by Magistrate Judge Lisa Berdine and McDermott, the court agreed with Lloyd Simms that Windy City is not entitled to receive a tax deed due to insufficient notice and gave Simms 120 days to redeem the property.

Who exactly might make that payment and end up as owner of the land is uncertain because records show Lloyd Simms is not alone in asserting ownership.

According to court records, entities known as Brentwood Equitable Trust and Green Leaf Enterprises LLC also claim a substantial interest in the property, which currently is a fenced-off dirt strip surrounded by an asphalt parking lot for the new casino.

An attorney for Simms and the other interested parties did not respond Friday to a request for comment on the court ruling.

Meanwhile, Gary attorney Tony Walker, representing Windy City Acquisition, said he expects to immediately appeal the ruling to the Indiana Court of Appeals in Indianapolis.

Walker said the circuit court decision repeatedly contradicts itself by determining at various points that Lloyd Simms was not entitled to certain notices, and then denying Windy City a tax deed because the court concludes Lloyd Simms failed to receive the notices.

That's despite Lloyd Simms testifying to the court that he did receive, sign for and open a notice the court said he didn't get, and Simms saying he personally viewed a notice posted in the yard connected to the parcel at issue, Walker said.

"It just clearly contradicts itself in several places," Walker said.

In addition, Walker said the Simms family had years following the death of Leland Simms to update the county's ownership record of the property by transferring the land to his heirs, which would have ensured notices were sent to a living person if the property taxes went unpaid.

Walker declined to say how eager the casino is to acquire the disputed property or how much Spectacle might pay to get it if the appeal is unsuccessful.

He said the land likely would end up becoming approximately 40 additional parking spaces.

Spectacle officials previously announced plans to replace much of the surface parking that will be available when the casino opens in early 2021 with an attached parking garage scheduled to be built in the next two or three years.

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Chief Political Reporter

Dan has reported on Indiana state government for The Times since 2009. He also covers casinos, campaigns and corruption.

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