Cedar Crossing would provide a better experience

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There isn’t one person in Cedar Rapids whose heart hasn’t gone out these past few weeks to the folks in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean as they’ve coped with the relentlessness of forces of nature.

We know all too well those feelings of fear, loss and powerlessness that come during times of disaster. But what often weighs heaviest on the mind is uncertainty about the future. What’s in store for our families, our homes and our community?

Nine years ago, a flood of historic proportions tested our mettle and challenged our resolve. However, through an enormous effort by thousands, we slowly and steadily restored neighborhoods and revitalized businesses.

Cedar Rapids came back stronger and better than before. As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, the city “worked with businesses, charitable foundations and nearly $1 billion in federal, state and local funds to transform itself, trading in dilapidated buildings and meatpacking plants for new office towers, loft-style condos, trendy coffee shops and bike lanes.”

We are not finished yet. A casino in downtown Cedar Rapids will take downtown to the next level and spur additional economic development and growth. This week Linn County residents will have the chance to directly tell decision-makers what they think about the future of economic development, entertainment and gaming in Iowa’s second-largest city.

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission will meet in Cedar Rapids this Tuesday to hear directly from business owners, labor union members and concerned citizens. After touring proposed sites for the casino, commissioners will listen to public comments starting at 1 p.m. in the main ballroom of the DoubleTree Hotel.

As investors in Cedar Crossing with deep ties in the Cedar Rapids community, we strongly urge residents to show up Tuesday and make their voices heard. Although the commission declined to grant a license in 2014, we know now is the time for gaming in Cedar Rapids.

Another applicant has submitted a proposal to build a much smaller casino with no amenities or entertainment. Cedar Rapids deserves the best! Our proposal includes a location downtown directly connected to the U.S. Cellular Center as well as the option we proposed last time on the river.

An honest accounting of the merits of our project compared to the other applicant clearly shows that Cedar Crossing would provide a better experience. Here is why:

It started with us. In 2013, the Cedar Crossing team spearheaded a grass-roots campaign to approve gaming in Linn County. Almost 37,000 residents turned out to support our proposal by a 61-39 percent margin. Those voters supported a premium facility, not a bare bones operation.

Cedar Crossing is publicly supported. Both the Linn County Board of Supervisors and the Cedar Rapids City Council have taken the unprecedented step of endorsing Cedar Crossing and explicitly asking the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission to deny the other proposal. Local government took those meaningful steps because they know Cedar Crossing would be a game changer for economic development.

Cedar Crossing will bring more entertainment. Cedar Crossing is not just about gaming. We are committed to providing residents and tourists with comprehensive entertainment. We intend to partner with the U.S. Cellular Center to bring popular acts to Cedar Rapids, which will drive traffic to businesses throughout Linn County.

Cedar Crossing will invest more in Cedar Rapids. Our downtown proposal, called Cedar Crossing Central, would be an investment in the community of more than $100 million, more than double the competing proposal. Our investment per slot machine is more than $193,000. The other proposal is only a $60,000-$85,000 investment per slot machine. Our investment includes replacing the Five Seasons Parking Ramp at a cost of more than $25 million. This will provide a huge benefit to Cedar Rapids taxpayers, who would otherwise have to cover the cost of replacing the garage.

Before the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission makes its decision in November, Linn County has one last chance to weigh in on the issue. We hope that everyone concerned with the future of our city will join us at 1 p.m. Tuesday in the main ballroom of the DoubleTree Hotel to tell the commission that we deserve the best — and that is Cedar Crossing!

• Steve Gray is chairman of the Cedar Rapids Development Group.

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