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Casino Backers Gather to Bolster Confidence Before IRGC Visit

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa Strength can come in numbers, and some 300 or so backers, believers and investors in the proposed Cedar Crossing Casino joined forces at a downtown bar last night to bolster confidence ahead of today's big day.

The Iowa Racing & Gaming Commission will be in Cedar Rapids this morning to get an in-person view of the site for the proposed $150-million-plus casino project across the Cedar River from downtown.

Mayor Ron Corbett and Steve Gray, who is heading up the local investor group, will direct the commission on a short bus tour of additional sites selected to tell the story of the city's flood disaster, the city's recovery and how Cedar Crossing Casino can help assure the recovery's success.

After the bus tour, the commissioners will conduct a public hearing at the convention center at The DoubleTree by Hilton to hear the case for and against the casino.

At last night's gathering at Dublin City Pub in downtown, Pat Loeffler, business agent for Carpenters Local 308 in Cedar Rapids, recalled standing in the winter cold in late 2012 collecting signatures on petitions to prompt a vote on casino gaming in Linn County in March 2013.

The petition drive garnered 15,500 signatures in seven weeks, 3,600 more than needed, and in the March 2013 vote, nearly 37,000 people or 61 percent of those who voted backed casino gaming for Linn County.

"I'm here for Cedar Rapids," Loeffler said last night. "It's about the jobs for me. I want to see my carpenters build this, but I want to see the economic benefit for all of Cedar Rapids. This will attract so much more to the city. My firm belief, when we get the casino, we're going to see downtown Cedar Rapids on the west side move out 10 blocks and up in the air."

Loeffler has been among the contingent of local casino supporters who has traveled to the last six monthly meetings of the Iowa Racing & Gaming Commission to make sure the commission keeps Cedar Rapids in mind.

"I think the commissioners want to do the right thing," he said. "There's such potential for this area that's been affected by the flood. The casino will just brighten Cedar Rapids up."

Bob Kazimour, retired owner of the former RFK Transportation Co. and a casino investor, last night said the proposed Cedar Crossing Casino is "the one opportunity"for Cedar Rapids after the flood of 2008 to develop the flood-hit west side of the river.

Kazimour helped lead casino backers in 2003 with a plan to build a riverboat casino in Cedar Rapids on the site of the former Sinclair meatpacking plant, but Linn County voters rejected casino gaming that year. Subsequent to the vote, casinos went up in Riverside to the south and Waterloo to the north, both of which now say a Cedar Rapids casino will harm them.

"I'm just glad we have another chance, particularly after the flood," Kazimour said. "If we miss this, I think it's going to be a good number of years before we have another opportunity to draw people as this will draw."

Jonathan Swain, who ran and had ownership interest in casinos in Dubuque and Worth County in Iowa and has invested in and will manage the Cedar Rapids casino, said last night's get-together was intended to thank people for their support up to now and to encourage them to join in a show of support in front of the commission.

"We want them to understand the importance of tomorrow," Swain said. "Community support is one of the key things that the commission looks at. And a big turnout from the community to say that they want this to happen is really, really critical to get a (commission) vote of yes."

Four of the five commissioners are expected to attend the Cedar Rapids site visit and public hearing, and they will be sure to see the giant sign erected late Wednesday afternoon on the casino site.

"Welcome Iowa Racing & Gaming Commission. We support our Cedar Crossing Casino. But we need you," the sign says.

Ray Dochterman, president of the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Building Trades Council, was wrestling with the sign to get it tied down in a brisk late Wednesday afternoon wind.

"We feel really good about this, we've felt good about it from the get-go," Dochterman said. "We feel confident that the Racing and Gaming Commission will do the right thing. That's why we've worked so hard on it. We have our heart and our soul into it. It's what we need down here."

Gray said he expected some 1,000 people to turn out to see the commission today.

The commission is slated to vote April 17 on whether or not to grant a state gaming license to Cedar Crossing Casino.