Lake Etta County Park may become Lake County convention, entertainment hub | Northwest Indiana Business Headlines

State Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, is continuing to craft legislation aimed at developing a Lake County convention or entertainment facility in or around Lake Etta County Park in Gary.

Senate Bill 373 was scheduled for review by the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday. It was pulled from the committee’s agenda, however, after Melton decided the plan needed additional polishing.

The two-term lawmaker said he’s hopeful his revised proposal will be heard by the Senate panel sometime before Thursday’s deadline for Senate legislation to advance out of committee.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb delivers his 2022 State of the State address to a joint session of the Indiana General Assembly

As originally devised, the measure creates a framework for centering a long-sought Lake County convention center, or a venue for “entertainment related events serving national or regional markets,” immediately southeast of the Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana or roughly adjacent to Interstate 80/94 at Burr Street.

Lake Etta County Park would be the hub of the “Lake County Convention and Entertainment District” that would be established by the Lake County Council and managed by the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA), according to the legislation.

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Under the plan, the RDA could borrow money to develop convention or entertainment facilities in the district. Money to repay the debt would come from a variety of sources, including:

  • A 3% increase in the Lake County innkeepers’ tax, with half the increase going to the entertainment district and the other half remaining with the county. The current innkeepers tax is a 5% charge, in addition to sales tax, tacked onto rates for hotel rooms and similar short-term lodgings in the county.
  • A 1% food and beverage tax, on top of the 7% sales tax, applied to all restaurant or carry-out meals and drinks sold in an area of Gary bounded by West 25th Avenue on the north, Cline Avenue on the west, Ridge Road on the south, and Broadway on the east.
  • All growth in state sales and income tax receipts in that same area for a 20-year period, up to $8 million a year, relative to the sales and income tax collections in the area during the 2021 state budget year, which ran from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021.
  • Diversion of 0.5% of the annual adjusted gross receipts earned by the operator of the Terre Haute casino for a 10-year period to recognize that the Terre Haute casino license once was assigned to one of the two Majestic Star casino boats in Gary.

The proposal likely faces long odds in the Republican-controlled General Assembly where any tax hike, let alone multiple tax hikes, generally are viewed with extreme skepticism — particularly in an election year where all 100 House members and 25 of 50 senators will be on the ballot.

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It’s also not clear whether Melton has sufficient support from all the entities expected to financially contribute to the plan, including the city of Gary, Lake County, the RDA, the State Budget Committee, and the Churchill Downs affiliate recently selected by the Indiana Gaming Commission to operate a casino in Terre Haute.

Separately, Merrillville also is seeking General Assembly approval in House Bill 1267 to enact a 1% food and beverage tax to fund a possible convention center at Century Plaza, near U.S. 30 and Broadway.

That proposal, sponsored by state Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, is not expected to advance out of the House Ways and Means Committee prior to Tuesday’s deadline for House committee action.