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CEDAR RAPIDS - Investors behind a proposed Cedar Rapids casino on Wednesday named a new seven-member non-profit board called the Cedar River Alliance for Gaming to sign off on the gambling license application and oversee distribution of a portion of the revenue to Linn County charities and organizations.
The board would serve the so called 'boutique” casino pitched for downtown Cedar Rapids on First Avenue SE across from the Doubletree hotel and convention center. by Wild Rose, and local developers Steve Emerson of Aspect Architecture and Hunter Parks of Hunter Cos.
'The Cedar Rapids community will benefit enormously from a successful gaming project,” Dick Meisterling, of Cedar Rapids, a vice president at Thompson and Associates and the new board's chairman, said in a statement on Wednesday. 'I am thrilled to join this new board, reinvigorate enthusiasm for gaming in our community and contribute to Cedar Rapids in a positive way through charitable giving.”
Joining Meisterling are Barbara Hames-Bryant of Cedar Rapids, president at Hames-The Homes People, Marion; Oather Taylor III of Cedar Rapids, director of recruitment and diversity at Alliant Energy and member of the board of trustees for the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation; Patrick Loeffler of Cedar Rapids, president at Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Building and Trades Council; Michelle Smothers Omar of Mount Vernon, patrol sergeant with the Cedar Rapids Police Department; Brent Mohasci of Robins, operations controller at Rockwell Collins; and Darline Davermann-Reid of Robins, adjunct professor of biology at Mount Mercy College.
Officials representing the proposed $40 million casino estimate it would generate $42 million annually in revenue, of which at least 3 percent would be directed to local charities, per state code.
Tom Timmons, president and chief operating officer at Wild Rose, which has three casinos in Iowa, said the hope is to apply for a license sometime after the start of 2017. A feasibility study should be complete around the same time.
The proposal for a casino has been saddled with promises by the city to a previous investor group, the Cedar Rapids Development Group, which spearheaded a multimillion dollar referendum campaign to allow gaming in Linn County. The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission rejected that group's bid in 2014 for a gambling license for Cedar Crossing, a $174 million development with a casino, hotel, restaurants and other amenities.
As part of the deal to provide city land on First Avenue SW near downtown, Cedar Rapids officials approved a memorandum of understanding with the Cedar Rapids Development Group that they would not support any other casino projects. Cedar Rapids officials have said they plan to honor that agreement, and the development group has not indicated any intent to revoke the agreement, nor put forth another casino proposal.
Steve Gray, the head of the Cedar Rapids Development Group, could not be reached by The Gazette for comment.
Timmons said while a resolution of support from Cedar Rapids would be helpful, it is not a requirement for a license. He doesn't anticipate the city breaking the memorandum of understanding. The development is on private land and zoned appropriately for the use.
'As long as the area is zoned for it, it would be like any other business at that point,” Timmons said. 'It goes back to the approval process with the Racing and Gaming Commission. We are moving forward. No one (in City Hall) has said we don't want it, so we are going ahead.”
Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission officials have said city support is not required, although it would be unusual not to have that support and could factor into the decision of whether or not to grant a license.
Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett reiterated the city's commitment to the agreemenet with the Cedar Rapids Development Group, but said the city is not 'hostile” to the new proposal.
'They really don't need the city's support for anything,” Corbett said. 'They have the land tied up and the developer.”
Corbett said he hopes the Wild Rose group provides the initial investor group, which included about 100 people and close to $10 million in investment, either an equity stake if the new casino goes through or some kind of settlement offer.
Emerson and Parks had announced a $1.5 million fund worth up to a $50,000, 50 percent match for lost funding for initial investors if they sign on to the new project and it gets approved.
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