Developers Unveil Name, Update Plans for New Casino

By Rick Smith, Reporter

Rendering of the new Cedar Rapids casino, Cedar Crossing

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By Rachel Begle

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — The application is in, and they’re calling it Cedar Crossing Casino.

The casino investor group led by local businessmen Steve Gray and Drew Skogman has filed its formal application with the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission to obtain a state gaming license for a proposed $150-million-plus Cedar Crossing Casino with parking ramp across the Cedar River from downtown.

The commission had set an application deadline of this afternoon for Cedar Rapids casino proposals, and Gray on Monday said his investor group Cedar Rapids Development Group LLC submitted its application at the commission office in Des Moines just before the close of business on Friday afternoon.

The application, which also was sent to each of the five commission members, consists of two large bins and four banker’s boxes of material, including new pictorial renderings of the proposed casino.

In the application, the Cedar Rapids investor group, which Gray said now includes more than 180 local investors, is emphasizing that the Cedar Crossing Casino will be a downtown, urban casino unlike most of the others, including the Riverside Casino and Golf Resort south of Iowa City.

“Our urban concept is unique to Iowa and is truly different than most of the resort destinations in the state,” Gray said. “We also believe it truly fits the location and will prove to be an economic catalyst for Cedar Rapids.”

Mayor Ron Corbett on Monday spoke in similar fashion, saying the casino concept for Cedar Rapids is not like the “cornfield casinos” in much of the rest of the state that he said are surrounded by seas of asphalt.

“Ours is an urban, downtown venue, multilevel with lots of lights,” Corbett said. “It has that Las Vegas flavor that others don’t have.”
It comes, too, with local investors, an experienced casino management team, strong community and local government support and a location that is “critical to the growth” of Cedar Rapids, the mayor said.

The Cedar Crossing Casino name, Gray said, embraces the historical fact that Cedar Rapids’ first settlers and its first bridge crossed the Cedar River near the spot where the casino is proposed to be built on First Avenue West.

Names tied to Cedar Rapids history also are attached to some of the amenities that will be part of the casino.

Sinclair’s Steakhouse Lounge is a tribute to early Cedar Rapids meatpacking-plant owner Thomas Sinclair. The 24-hour Pickle Works deli acknowledges another early Cedar Rapids plant. Kingston Market Buffet takes the name of the town on the west side of the Cedar River that was brought into Cedar Rapids in the mid-19th Century. Today, City Hall has begun to call the historic area around the proposed casino site Kingston Village.

Cedar Crossing Casino also will feature The Rock Bar in the middle of the casino, a 400-seat City Lights Event Center and a retail store.
“We are excited about the venue, amenities, name and concept,” Gray said on Monday. “Hopefully, the commissioners share our enthusiasm.”

The state commission is scheduled to hire a gaming analytics firm or firms in October to study Iowa’s gaming industry of 15 state-licensed casinos and three state-licensed racetrack-casinos. The commission will want to know if a Cedar Rapids casino and a second new one proposed in Greene County west of Ames and Boone will enhance the industry in the state without significantly harming existing venues. A decision on any new licenses is expected in the spring.

Dan Kehl, president/CEO of the Riverside Casino and Golf Resort in rural Washington County south of Iowa City, has said a Cedar Rapids casino would take 30 percent of his venue’s business, though Gray has said his studies show a Cedar Rapids casino would not have a significant impact on the Riverside operation.

Gray repeatedly has said that the casino on a site between First and Second avenues SW and First and Third streets SW will serve as a 365-day-a-year entertainment attraction that will spur development around it, help reshape the downtown and support the city-owned hotel, convention center, arena and riverfront amphitheater there.

Gray described the casino design as a “synthesized blend” of the contemporary with glazed glass at the entryway and the historic with the use of native Anamosa stone as well as brick similar to that used on the historic Louis Sullivan-designed bank a block from the casino site.

The glass entryway, he said, will be lighted at night to create “a beacon” for the casino within the Kingston Village neighborhood, and the casino and its exterior patios will have great views of the Cedar River and downtown Cedar Rapids on the other side of it, he added.

Gray attributed the design to OPN Architects Inc., Cedar Rapids, The Friedmutter Group, Las Vegas, and Jonathan Swain, one of three former Peninsula Gaming LLC executives whom Cedar Rapids Development Group LLC has hired to manage the Cedar Rapids casino and who also are investors in the casino. Peninsula Gaming had owned and operated the Diamond Jo Casino in Dubuque and Diamond Jo Casino in Worth County before selling the venues and three out-of-state ones in November 2012.

Ryan Companies US Inc., with an office in Cedar Rapids, will build the casino, Gray said.

He said he expected that the Cedar Rapids investor group would make a formal presentation to the state commission in early 2014 and he said the commission then would make a site visit, perhaps in March, before making its decision of a Cedar Rapids casino license.

Just last week, the Cedar Rapids City Council, on an 8-0 vote, approved a development agreement with Cedar Rapids Development Group LLC, an agreement which includes the sale of about 8 acres of city-owned property to the casino investors for almost $3 million.

The agreement calls for the casino investors to pay the city an additional $1 million at the time of the closing of the property sale and 1 percent of the casino’s gross adjusted receipts — about $800,000 in the initial year — for each of 50 years.

In turn, the city has agreed to spend up to $2 million for street, lighting and other infrastructure improvements around the casino site and to partner with the casino in the construction of a $28 million, 1,000-stall parking ramp on the north side of First Avenue West across from the casino. The ramp and casino will be connected by a skywalk. The ramp and skywalk will be paid for with property-tax revenue generated by the casino investment over 20 years.

The council enthusiastically endorsed the city-casino agreement last week, emphasizing how the casino proposal had evolved and grown over time. Last fall, the investors talked of an $85 million venue, 118,000 square feet in size, and now it has grown to a $125 million one, 171,000 square feet in size with a $28-million parking ramp, council members said.

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