Public ideas needed for CedarRapids casino site

The site of the proposed Cedar Crossing Casino in Cedar Rapids has been prepared ahead of  the Racing and Gaming Commission visit on Thursday. Shot on Monday, March 31, 2014. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)
The site of the proposed Cedar Crossing Casino in Cedar Rapids has been prepared ahead of the Racing and Gaming Commission visit on Thursday. Shot on Monday, March 31, 2014. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

It seems clear Cedar Crossing Casino 1.0, the original, the classic, “the big one” as it’s been called, is dead by the water. Iowa’s Racing and Gaming Commission left faint hope for a smaller downtown casino, someday, but not a glitzy, sprawling parlor just a poker chip’s toss from the west bank of the Cedar River.

So what’s to be done with all of that land, waiting in vain for slots and steaks? It’s a question being asked of the two candidates running to become Cedar Rapids’ next mayor in Tuesday’s runoff.

“I’d love to get that land back on the tax rolls. It would be a terrific area for development on the west side. And so I’m all in favor of that,” said attorney Brad Hart at a forum last week. I asked about the site’s future, and whether the public should have a say in what happens next.

“I don’t know that we need the city to, or the community to weigh in on that. Certainly, give us ideas and thoughts. But ultimately it’s going to be the City Council’s decision on what to do with that,” Hart said.

A few moments later, when I reframed the question to ask if a city planning process for the site should include public input, Hart seemed open to it. He pointed to past instances when the city held open houses to sample opinion.

“I think we should do a come one, come all, kind of like you do when you request for art,” said former City Council member Monica Vernon. “What are your ideas? I think that would be fun to do. But ultimately we have to see who will invest in it.”

Vernon floated her idea for “community housing” rising up from the site, with a senior center and a recreation center attached. Not a bad idea, but much less Vegas than the original plan. There may be bingo, however.


“That’s just a concept I have and I’d like to hear what other people think,” Vernon said.

It’s important to remember more than 37,000 Linn County voters, most from Cedar Rapids, voted in favor of a casino on the west side site. Some trudged out into a snowstorm back in March 2013. Turnout approached 40 percent. Sadly, Tuesday’s runoff likely won’t match that enthusiasm.

Given that vote, and the vast community coalition assembled to support a casino, it seems clear community input should be at the center of any planning process aimed at deciding what’s next. Jenny Schulz, who leads the Kids First Law Center, had the right idea in a guest column published here last week. She advocates community brainstorming, and offered her own good ideas.

My ideas? Much less good. But I’ve heard recently this is supposed to be fun.

River-Side Casino-themed Water Park and Mini Golf Resort – Yes, we may run into trademark issues with Dan Kehl. But just imagine the “Cannibal Waterslide,” with kids riding inflated coins down a big drain.

The Topsoil Institute – A personal project of mine.

Second-Largest Museum – A museum in Iowa’s second-largest city dedicated to celebrating runners-up.

A Kinnick-style homes development – Take that, snooty Iowa City.

A sound-proof fireworks refuge – In case Cedar Rapids’ ban doesn’t work so well.

Maybe you have ideas. Send them along.

l Comments: (319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com



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