End of a long wait

Officials break ground on Blue Sky Casino

French Lick casino supporters celebrate
with town-wide party

By Don Ward

FRENCH LICK, Ind. (September 2005) - It took many years of hard work, lobbying and campaigning, but French Lick finally got its casino.

Geneva Street

Photos by Don Ward

Geneva Street, center with grandson,
Clayton Snider, takes part in the Aug. 9
groundbreaking in French Lick, Ind.

Geneva Street, a local hairdresser and the leader of the “Orange Shirts,” rallied her troops together one more time Aug. 9, only this time to celebrate the groundbreaking of Blue Sky Casino on what was formerly part of the French Lick Springs Golf Course.
Soon, the fairways will become an enormous construction site as the casino and conference center start taking shape in the months ahead. The $400 million project, approved June 23 by the Indiana Gaming Commission, will be the state’s last of 11 casinos currently licensed under Indiana state law. The casino will sit in the heart of the tiny town of French Lick, just 75 miles west of Madison, Ind.
“I’m so proud of everyone; we’ve worked hard for this and it’s great to finally see it happen,” said Street, 74, as she clung to her grandson, Clayton Snider, 2, and surrounded by family members, some of whom had driven across the state to be with her on this historic day.
Blue Sky Casino is being created by a partnership of three groups – Lauth Group Inc., an Indianapolis-based real estate firm; Cook Group Inc., a medical device manufacturer in Bloomington owned by West Baden Springs philanthropists Bill and Gayle Cook; and Majestic Star Casino, which also operates the casino in Gary, Ind. Benchmark Hospitality International, headquartered in Houston, now manages the French Lick Springs Resort.
“Despite all the work today, we are just getting started,” said Lauth Group CEO Bob Lauth.

Blue Sky Casino

Photo by Don Ward

Above is the Lauth Group’s rendering
of the future Blue Sky casino now
under construction in French Lick.

State Rep. Jerry Denbo and former State Rep. Markt Lytle, who both promoted the casino, attended the groundbreaking, along with many dignitaries. After the ribbon cutting and a flurry of picture-taking, those who attended were treated with free food and drinks on the shady lawn in front of the French Lick Springs Resort.
“This is the culmination of the Orange County community’s efforts to restore these two historic hotels and build this casino,” said Steve Ferguson, chairman of Bloomington, Indiana-based Cook Group, which formed Orange County Holdings, one of the Blue Sky partners.
When finished, the new casino complex will boast an 80,000-square-foot nautically themed casino, an event and conference center, parking garage, entertainment lounge, sports bar, fine dining restaurant and casual bistro. It will also house 680 hotel rooms and suites between the two existing and renovated resorts – French Lick Springs Resort and the West Baden Springs Resort, plus an array of resort amenities, including spas, pools and a newly built golf course.
Casino revenues also have been earmarked to fund complete restorations of the aging but historic French Lick Springs Resort and the nearby famed “domed” hotel at West Baden Springs.
What’s more, it is expected to rejuvenate a financially poor area that at one time in years past billed itself as a playground for the rich and famous. The casino project is estimated to create about 1,400 jobs and provide an estimated $32 million in annual salaries and benefits between the two resorts. The casino itself will generate an estimated $32.6 million in annual admission and gaming tax revenue, as well as $3.2 million annually in local incentives.
Completion of the casino, parking garage, event center, golf courses and the first 200 rooms at French Lick Springs Resort and related amenities is slated for December 2006. In the project’s second phase, Blue Sky expects to finish restoring the 240 rooms at West Baden Springs Resort by July 2007. The final 240 rooms at French Lick Springs Resort will be finished by December 2007.
Community members were invited to participate in the ceremony and asked to bring old letters, souvenirs and other memorabilia from the resort’s history. The items will be put in a booklet, which Blue Sky officials hope to complete for the grand opening by the end of next year.

Back to September 2005 Articles.



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