For the better part of three decades, the development, redevelopment and, ultimately, recovery of Cedar Rapids’ downtown core has been our mission, purpose and passion. And that is why our decision to invite Wild Rose to partner with us to bring a world-class gaming destination to downtown Cedar Rapids was made carefully and thoughtfully.
This process has been eye opening, to say the least, and high-stakes competition of this sort has the tendency to bring out both the best and worst in people. That said, we are incredibly proud of our partnership with Wild Rose and the fact their leaders and representatives continue to take a high-road approach to this project.
It was our suggestion to Wild Rose, an Iowa company, that they consider an urban boutique facility — one that would NOT include a high-end restaurant or upscale nightclub in their proposal. Instead, we argued for a facility that focused exclusively on a high-quality gaming attraction. Why? Because we envision a first-class gaming facility that will serve to draw people to our downtown core in consistent and large numbers — and who would then support the excellent restaurants, bars and clubs that already exist in downtown Cedar Rapids.
Wild Rose leaders embraced this vision. They made the decision to sacrifice some measure of profit that might come from on-site restaurants to be part of our growing entertainment district. Rather than building an island that draws away from downtown hotels, restaurants and theaters, Wild Rose is going to work with our established local businesses.
Most destination casinos are designed to keep you in the property at all times, with no need to venture outside their doors for food, drink or entertainment. Such concepts will not make our downtown more vibrant, but will instead likely put existing businesses (that have invested much and taken big risks to assist in our local recovery) in danger.
Our Wild Rose project is a win-win for Cedar Rapids. The proposed facility is a first-class, brand-new building in the core of downtown. It will convert an underused parcel of land into a thriving entertainment business that will help bring thousands of people to Cedar Rapids every week. Wild Rose will buy hotel rooms at the taxpayer-owned hotel, show tickets at the local theaters and the convention center, and meals at local restaurants. Not only will this project support our taxpayer-owned properties that need the customers our facility will consistently bring to the downtown, it asks for no financial incentives or tax breaks from the city of Cedar Rapids or Linn County. How many new businesses can say that?
Wild Rose will share 5 percent of the gross gaming receipts with local charities — which is one of the highest percentages in the state. This means that the new nonprofit board established on behalf of Linn County, Cedar River Alliance for Gaming, will have approximately $2.5 million in new charitable funding to distribute throughout Linn County.
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In addition, Wild Rose currently owns and operates three successful similarly sized gaming facilities in Iowa, and they are well known in those communities as people of high character and truly exceptional neighbors.
Here’s the bottom line for us when it comes to the Wild Rose proposal for a Cedar Rapids gaming facility:
Is the proposed facility first-class in look and feel? Yes.
Will the proposed facility complement and support existing core businesses? Yes.
Is the Wild Rose team of a caliber we want to bring to Cedar Rapids? Yes.
We care passionately about our community and are personally invested in the success of our core downtown area on a day-to-day basis. It is our sincerest hope to bring this great facility and great team to Cedar Rapids to continue the downtown momentum and make Linn County a better place to be.
• Steve Emerson is owner of Aspect Architecture and Hunter Parks is owner of Hunter Companies, both Cedar Rapids area businesses.