Investors Expect to Get 11,872 Signatures to Prompt Linn County Casino Vote

By Rick Smith, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - The number is 11,872.

That's the minimum number of signatures — 10 percent of the 118,711 people who voted in Linn County on Nov. 6 — that a Cedar Rapids-based group of investors will need to collect to prompt the Linn County Board of Supervisors to call a countywide vote on casino gambling.

Steve Gray, who is heading up a Cedar Rapids-centered casino investor group called Cedar Rapids Development Group LLC, said Wednesday that his group has hired professional campaign help and is assembling a growing cadre of volunteers to provide shoe leather for the formal petition drive.

He said the petition drive — called Vote Yes Linn County — will include some door-to-door work and will put volunteers at places where people congregate starting in the next couple of weeks.

In the coming weeks, too, the petition campaign will move into one of the temporary office spaces that had housed election campaign offices. Negotiations are under way to find the right place, he said.

"I am quite confident that we can obtain the number of signatures that comfortably exceeds the minimum amount, and we hope to be able to do that by the first part of March," said Gray, of Gray Venture Partners and a board chairman of four Cedar Rapids firms.

The March goal, if reached, would set up a Linn County vote on casino gambling for May 7.

The investor group, Gray said, already has gathered several hundred petition signatures in casual fashion without trying.

On Oct. 4, Gray announced his intent to bring a casino to Cedar Rapids, and at that time said investor group of mostly Cedar Rapids business owners and executives numbered 22. On Wednesday, he said he expects the number of investors to grow to about 60 by the end of the year.

"It's very fulfilling to see that there are a lot of people in Linn County that share our vision of creating 490 new, great jobs, of (generating) another necessary source of revenue, of keeping the money in Linn County and, by the way, (creating) a fun and lively place to go."

Cedar Rapids Development Group LLC envisions building an $85-million casino in addition to paying $20 million for a state gaming license if the Linn County casino referendum passes and if the group can convince the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission to grant a license. In 2010, the commission said it wanted to wait three to five years before considering any new license, and it said it worried than any new casino could cannibalize attendance at existing casinos.

Gray said his group will hire experts in the next 60 to 90 days to help identify the best local site for a casino. Sites on the west side of the Cedar River across from downtown, in the greater downtown area and on the periphery of the city are all under consideration, he said.

A casino, he said, could need a five-to-seven-acre footprint. Picking a site "is not going to be an easy task," he added.

Gray said he has not received many requests to identify the members of his investor group, though he said most are local business owners and executives. Drew Skogman, vice president of Skogman Homes, is among the investors.

Earlier, Gray reported that the investors had hired Doug Gross, a Des Moines attorney, a former chief of staff for Gov. Terry Branstad and a former gubernatorial candidate, as legal counsel and strategist.

Gray said the investors also now have hired Richard Schwarm, a former law partner of Branstad's in Lake Mills, Iowa, and Schwarm's son, R.G. Schwarm, to run the petition drive and referendum campaign. In addition, the investors have hired Marcia Rogers of Cedar Rapids to handle communications, arrange speaking engagements and to help with volunteers.
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