Investors Reveal Possible Cedar Rapids Casino Location

By Rick Smith, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Investors in a proposed casino here and their consultants say the best place for a casino in the metro area is in an area across the Cedar River from either downtown or the Quaker Oats plant with easy access to and great visibility from Interstate 380.

At a Monday afternoon news conference at the offices of the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, casino investor Steve Gray said he and a group of more than 60 investors, which are doing business as Cedar Rapids Development Group LLC, hired local firms Ryan Companies US Inc. and OPN Architects Inc. to help them pinpoint the preferred site from among 21 options.

Marc Gullickson, president of Iowa operations for Ryan Companies US Inc., said the casino operation likely will built either on 6.5-plus acres of property at the Cedar River between Interstate 380 and Second Avenue SW, which sits directly south of the Interstate across from downtown, or on 13 acres along the river just north of Interstate 380 north to the rail bridge at Quaker Oats Co. It will be one or the other areas, Gullickson said.

He said the investors and consultants identified two areas next to each other to retain some flexibility if problems arise with either site.

At the same time, Gray revealed that the investors had just signed a contract to purchase property from Jay Hahn, who owns five addresses between First and Second streets SW and First and Second avenues SW directly across from downtown.

Gray said, too, that the Cedar Rapids City Council will play a role in determining the final placement of the casino because the city now owns much of the property both north and south of Interstate 380 along the river, which the city acquired as part of the flood-recovery buyout of flood-damaged property.

Mayor Ron Corbett, who attended the afternoon news conference along with three other City Council members, said he was happy to see the preferred site was in Cedar Rapids and in the downtown area. That means property-tax revenue and some gaming revenue will come to Cedar Rapids, he said.

Much of the property identified for the casino site sits in the 100-year flood plain and will need to be elevated about a foot and half to comply with the city's flood plain ordinance, according to the casino's consultants. A ground level of parking, designed to take on water, may be part of any design, they added.

Gray also said the construction of the casino may come with a flood wall similar to the wall that Quaker Oats to provide the plant with some protection.

Part of the push to identify a site came from complaints by anti-casino group Just Say No Casino, which has accused the investors of not disclosing enough about the casino proposal.

Selecting a site, too, comes with one eye down the road when the casino investors must convince the Iowa Racing & Gaming Commission to grant a gaming license for a Cedar Rapids casino should Linn County voters approve casino gaming on March 5.

In its deliberations, the state commission will look to see if a Cedar Rapids casino creates new casino business for the state or simply cannibalizes existing business from the new, nearby casinos in Riverside and Waterloo.

Picking a site for a Cedar Rapids casino on the north side of the Cedar Rapids metro area, perhaps at Hiawatha, would move a casino closer to the Waterloo casino while a site on the city's south side out by The Eastern Iowa Airport would move it closer to Riverside. Downtown Cedar Rapids may be the best place to get as far away as possible from both the Riverside and Waterloo casinos at the same time.
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