Cedar Crossing rallies support for Cedar Rapids casino

Some came for the casino, others for Bret Michaels

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Hundreds of people came to the U.S. Cellular Center Friday night to see if a new downtown casino would be a rose or a thorn for the city.

The backers behind Cedar Crossing, one of three casino proposals for downtown, hosted a community event to rally support for their plan.

About 500 people — some who support the casino, others who came for free beer and to see former Poison frontman Bret Michaels — attended the rally and heard Cedar Crossing’s investors give their pitch.

“Remember back in the day? Kiss would play here, Motley Crue would play here. We lost all those shows to Moline and Des Moines. Now we want to bring the entertainment back to Cedar Rapids,” said Scott Thomas, president of Buzz Entertainment, which would book shows for Cedar Crossing’s casino.

Cedar Crossing’s supporters — Los Angeles-based casino developer Peninsula Pacific Partnership and local investor coalition Cedar Crossing Development Group — have put forth two of the three proposals.

One, Cedar Crossing Central, would be built as a skydeck that connects to the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel and the U.S. Cellular Center on one side and a new parking ramp on the other.

The second, Cedar Crossing on the River, would be a casino on the Cedar River’s west bank with restaurants and a convention hall.

Wild Rose Entertainment has submitted the third application, described as a “boutique hotel” on the skywalk level of a new structure next to the Skogman building at 411 Fist Ave. SE.

Cedar Crossing investors criticized the Wild Rose plan as being “just a casino” with few amenities when they spoke to The Gazette editorial board earlier Friday.

“Just to be perfectly honest, I would not have led an effort to have a casino like that in Cedar Rapids because it is just that: It is a casino in Cedar Rapids,” said Steve Gray, who leads the local investor group.

wild rose plan

Brent Stevens, the head of Peninsula Pacific, said Wild Rose was going to “spend as little as they can to get a license.”

“Wild Rose is a pure gaming experience. There is no food-and-beverage amenity, other than ‘sandwich and chips,’ by their own words,” Stevens said.

A spokeswoman for Wild Rose could not be reached for comment Friday evening. Wild Rose’s proposal calls for a $40 million casino with few other amenities, such as a restaurant. The plan’s backers have previously said their casino would support, rather than cannibalize, downtown’s existing businesses.

The Wild Rose casino “is designed to complement the growing downtown Cedar Rapids entertainment district, while providing a valuable source of new revenue for Linn County,” Tom Timmons, Wild Rose president and chief operating officer, said in a statement in July.

Both of the Cedar Crossing proposals would cost upward of $100 million, have restaurants or dining service, and be attached to an entertainment venue.

‘go all out’

At the rally, Russ Williams and Julie Coleson, both of Cedar Rapids, said they support a downtown casino.

“It’s going to build up the downtown area again. We lost so much in ’08. It’s going to bring more people. Whether they’re local or from out-of-town, they’re still going to eat, and they’re still going to be around downtown,” said Williams, 46.

Shannon Burke, of Linn County, said he’d rather a developer not “mess around with that little boutique stuff.”

“If they’re going to get a casino license, they might as well go all out and be done with it,” said Burke, 54.

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission will meet at the Cedar Rapids Convention Center on Sept. 26 to hear public comments on the three applications. It is expected to make a final decision in November. Independent market studies are due in October.

thorny questions

If the Gaming Commission turns down all three proposals, Gray said his group will continue to push for a Cedar Rapids casino.

That effort has grown some thorns recently.

CRST International Chairman John Smith, an investor in Cedar Crossing, suggested in a letter that “the fix is in” for Wild Rose’s proposal. Wild Rose denied that claim. Linn County and Cedar Rapids officials, meanwhile, said they would rather have no casino than the one from Wild Rose.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett shared his support for Cedar Crossing at Friday’s event and said the casino had been a long time coming.

“We haven’t thrown in the towel, and we’re not going to settle for a consolation prize,” Corbett told the crowd.

Gray and Stevens, with Cedar Crossing, commented little on last week’s events.

“We could talk about is there a finger on the scale and who from Wild Rose has been talking to whom,” Gray told The Gazette’s editorial board. “It may make for an interesting article, but quite frankly I don’t want to go there.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8366; matthew.patane@thegazette.com

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