Linn County casino vote set for March 5

Investors may have site selected before vote

CEDAR RAPIDS — March 5, it is.

The Linn County Board of Supervisors, on a 4-0 vote, Friday afternoon set a special election for March 5 to give voters countywide a chance to decide if they want casino gambling in Linn County.

The supervisors were required to call the election after the pro-casino Vote Yes Linn County campaign submitted a sufficient number of signatures on petitions calling for a vote. Casino supporters submitted more than 15,000 approved signatures, which was 3,500 above the number required by state law to prompt a vote.

The March 5 ballot will ask voters if they approve of “gambling games at a casino to be developed in Linn County.”

With the election date made official Friday afternoon, Steve Gray, who is heading up casino investor group called Cedar Rapids Development Group LLC, said the group had decided to hire Ryan Companies US Inc. and OPN Architects Inc., both of Cedar Rapids, to immediately start to evaluate possible sites for a new Linn County casino.

The hope is that the work of the two firms in the coming weeks will narrow the possible sites for a casino if not identify the preferred site, Gray, founder of Gray Venture Partners LLC, said on Friday.

“Yes, our plan is to continue to narrow the list of possibilities,” he continued. “I’m as anxious to know as anybody.”

On Wednesday, Gray and Drew Skogman, vice president of Skogman Homes and another investor in the casino project, said it did not make sense to invest what they said was a substantial sum of money to determine the site for the casino only to have Linn County voters reject the idea on March 5 and bring the project to a halt.

“The big decision for us was, do we want to spend the money?” Gray said on Friday. “And we’re going to spend the money and we’re going to move forward as quickly as we possibly can.”

Gray and Skogman on Wednesday did narrow the site possibilities for a casino to an area 1,500 feet on either side of Interstate 380 between Boyson Road at Hiawatha and Highway 30 on the south side of Cedar Rapids. Gray also singled out the Rivers Casino, a downtown casino in Pittsburgh, Pa., adding that he envisioned that a Cedar Rapids casino will be “”urban, metro and upscale” not unlike the Pittsburgh one.

The correct casino site needs to have high visibility, ease of access, sufficient size and make a positive impact on the surrounding area and businesses, Gray said Friday.“The right site is critical to the success of the venue,” he said. “ ... We plan to keep the citizens of Linn County informed as we proceed with this important planning effort.”

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