Michael Jackson's father and Gary officials announced plans Wednesday to move ahead with a long-delayed performing arts center to help revitalize the late singer's hometown, drawing cautious optimism from residents who say they've heard this song many times before.
Work on the $300 million museum and performing arts center could begin as early as next year, said Gary Mayor Rudy Clay, acknowledging this isn't the first time city officials have made promises about the project.
"The question has been asked: Why now, why Gary, is it really going to happen?" Clay said. "Now is the time. We've got to seize the moment."
Jackson left Gary as a child and visited just once, in June 2003, to announce plans for the center. No details were given then about how the center would be paid for, and the financial plans were equally vague Wednesday.
Clay said money to build the Jackson Family Museum and Hotel and the Michael Jackson Performing Arts and Cultural Center and Theaters would come from the Jackson Family Foundation, investors and donations. But neither he nor Joe Jackson said how much the foundation would chip in or how much investors have pledged.
No progress was made on the project before Michael Jackson's death last year. His father, Joe Jackson, said Wednesday that he's "just carrying out his legacy" by getting involved.
"This is a happy day for me because this is something that my family and Michael have always wanted," Joe Jackson said. "We're bringing something back."
When the cash-strapped city held a memorial for Michael Jackson last July, Clay said officials paid $5,000 to fly Joe Jackson and seven other people from Los Angeles to attend. He didn't say whether the city paid for Jackson's travel this time.
There also was no mention Wednesday of Michael Jackson's estate. It is considering a different museum plan and must give written approval for any use of the singer's name and intellectual property, including his music, attorney Howard Weitzman said.
"The Estate of Michael Jackson was never consulted about, nor is it involved in, the Jackson Family museum being proposed in Gary, Indiana," Weitzman said in a statement. "The Estate has no connection to this project."
Michael Jackson spent the first 11 years of his life in Gary. The family moved after the Jackson 5 struck it big in 1969. By that time, the steel industry, in which Joe Jackson had worked, had started to decline. Over the years, the city's unemployment and poverty rates soared, crime increased and the population dwindled.
Clay said the museum and performing arts center would create thousands of jobs and, when finished, was expected to bring at least 750,000 visitors a year to the city. He estimated it would generate $100 million to $150 million in income for the community each year.
"This project will be the magnet that will draw people from all over the world," Clay said.
In comparison, Graceland, Elvis Presley's home in Memphis, draws an estimated 600,000 visitors a year, according to the website for Presley's estate.
After years of promises about the project but no progress, residents in this gritty city 30 miles southeast of Chicago were cautiously optimistic. People said they were hopeful because Wednesday's announcement was the furthest along the project has ever come, with the city donating 300 acres of land.
Police Chief Gary O. Carter was impressed by Joe Jackson's presence.
"Why would he come all the way here if it wasn't" going to happen, Carter said.
Seretha Harvey, 24, grew up in Gary and said she hoped the project would happen, and that it would bring jobs and help change people's image of the financially struggling city.
"I've been in and out of Gary for the past few years, and I've seen it deteriorate. I'm worried about whether this is actually going to matriculate," she said, but added, "I'm optimistic about it."