Special Segments

No thrills yet at Michael Jackson Museum site

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Questions swirl about the future of the multi-million dollar plan to honor Michael Jackson with a museum in the city where he grew up.

In the two years since his death, plans have been in the works for a museum complex to honor Michael Jackson in Gary, Indiana.

Amid missed deadlines and more promises, the site that has been set aside is still an empty field.

"I think that it can happen... I just want to see it happen for the people of Gary," said Gary Mayor Rudy Clay.

It has been Clay's big push: to bring fans from all over the world to the hometown of the Jackson family. In the summer of 2010, it seemed like everything was off to a good start.

"We are coming back, and we're bringing something back," said Joe Jackson.

Since then, the Jackson family created both a foundation and a company - dedicated to bringing the Michael Jackson Museum to Gary.

"They have assured us that they definitely want the City of Gary to be their final destination point," said Gary Economic Development Director Joel Rodriguez. "It could be Gary's Navy Pier."

Today, the proposed site is empty. Instead of the Michael Jackson Museum, there's an abandoned stadium, empty fields, and a city golf course.

For this 186-acre site, project organizers still have big dreams.

"This is a destination, worldwide destination that people will come [to] from all over the world," said Simon Sahouri of the Jackson Development and Marketing Corporation.

Sahouri works for the Jackson family, leading the effort to create the Michael Jackson Museum complex.

Now, in addition to the museum, he is planning for a performing arts center, a light rail station, and an amusement park.

Sahouri also wants to create student dorms for the nearby branch of Indiana University and carve out a piece of the land for a potential land-based casino.

"The first phase, most probably [is] going to cost about $300 million," said Sahouri.

So far, no donations to the project have been reported on the foundation's federal tax forms.

Sahouri says he has interested investors, but would not disclose any names, saying that despite not actually raising any money, he has promises.

While he expects a new "preliminary master plan" in four to six months, he's still unclear as to how long it will actually take to build the site.

"I don't think it's going to be ten years or fifteen years, and I would like to see it while Mr. and Mrs. Jackson are still alive," said Sahouri.

Gary mayor-elect Karen Freeman-Wilson ran on a specific plan to revitalize Gary that she called "The Blueprint." It did not include the Michael Jackson site.

She says that while she is open to a way to honor the "King of Pop," she would need to see a feasible financial proposal to move forward with the project.

"To expend resources that are already limited, I would have to have a compelling reason, and as we sit here now, I don't have that reason," said Freeman-Wilson. "Quite frankly, in order for the city to continue to hold land, they have to really, really deliver on what they are promising."

The Jackson family missed deadlines to set up a not-for-profit corporation that city officials originally wanted to donate the land to, so the development is now being managed by the family's for-profit corporation.

Freeman-Wilson says if the project falls through, her administration will find other uses for the land.

(Copyright ©2014 WLS-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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