Politics, race end idea of Michael Jackson theme park Hometown of Gary, Ind., hoped for $2 billion rebirth

November 29, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

GARY, Ind. -- It was supposed to have been the impetus to transform this gritty blue-collar city into the entertainment mecca of the Midwest. But political bickering and allegations of racism and conflict of interest have halted plans for the $2 billion entertainment complex.

The most famous family from Gary is fed up, its lawyer said, and has withdrawn support for the complex because of the politics and fears of lawsuits.

Youngsters on the city's west side can direct visitors to the location of Michael Jackson's boyhood home, most likely including the address. "Everybody knows that around here," said Malik Simmons, 11, on his way home from school. "They even named the street after him."

The answer is partly correct. The Jackson family lived in a modest corner house on Jackson Street. But the street is named after the seventh president.

City leaders have proposed that the house be the centerpiece of a theme park that would include a Jackson family museum, an entertainment complex, hotels and stores. A Los Angeles lawyer who has been negotiating with officials for the Jackson family since last year, Brian Oxman, said the project had been stopped because of squabbling between Mayor Scott King and King's predecessor, Thomas V. Barnes.

Oxman said the family was concerned that the yearlong battle over control of the project had diminished confidence among potential investors. "It's not doable, given the current state of affairs," he said.

The dispute has highlighted the racial polarization between Barnes' old-line leadership and those who back King, the city's first white mayor in more than 20 years.

"It's become, unfortunately, a black and white issue," Oxman said. "Let's face it, the color of this project should be green, the color of money."

Barnes and the executive director of the foundation, Thomas Floyd, said King was seeking to freeze them out of the project to benefit the mostly white business sector. The two men said the complex should be managed by a mostly black steering group that would be more in tune with community needs.

"This is not just an important economic issue," Barnes said, "but equally important from a cultural and spiritual perspective. It's a way we can provide a cultural and moral underpinning to underprivileged African-Americans nationwide."

Pub Date: 11/29/96

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