Did Davenport Learn Anything? Print
Commentary/Politics - Editorials
Wednesday, 06 June 2007 03:24

It's happening again. Negotiations for a new casino hotel are occurring virtually undetected by the public, or the primary landowners whose properties are so cavalierly being bandied about.

I keep asking myself: What entitles Isle of Capri (IOC) to whatever public asset it sees fit to claim? First it was our precious downtown riverfront, for which our city leadership sold their civic souls and all future credibility. Now it is seeking to convert our convention center into its own for-profit casino.

For this deal to occur, IOC would commit to building a smaller 100-room hotel somewhere in the vicinity (supposedly in the old water-company building on Second Street). Naturally, the city's commitment(s) would be far greater. Taxpayers would be required to fund a new convention center somewhere in the vicinity, and help finance a new parking lot to accommodate the casino (naturally), and maintain responsibility for the Blackhawk Hotel property.

Davenport City Administrator Craig Malin admitted that the original development agreement for IOC's casino hotel on the riverfront was not a good deal for the city. The questions is: Have Malin and the city council learned anything from this debacle? The IOC left so much egg on the faces of the council and administration that breakfast can be served into the next decade.

What the city leadership should have learned is the following:

(a) Davenport holds the better hand because the license is tied to our community;

(b) The Rhythm City Casino is a significantly profitable property and will not be forfeited by the Goldsteins;

(c) The other highly profitable casino in the Goldsteins' fleet is right next door in Bettendorf - they will hardly forfeit this critically unique competitive advantage of operating under both licenses in the same market;

(d) If IOC doesn't like our proposal, then we shall find an operator who does;

(e) Our proposal should consist of a much more equitable share in the profits from gaming here;

(f) The RDA is the license-holder and its president and board should advocate the community's interest over those of IOC - or at a minimum strike a balance. This is clearly no longer the case with Mary Ellen Chamberlin, who advocates IOC's position on nearly every roll of the dice;

(g) The RDA needs far greater accountability and scrutiny in the future, by not only the gaming commission, but by the community it serves; and

(h) IOC's financial picture needs to be understood in its entirety so that a proper risk assessment can be achieved.

If the city leadership hasn't learned that it holds the leverage, not the IOC, then we are doomed to repeat the same sad and costly mistakes that have plagued us thus far. If this council, specifically the mayor and his five minions (Aldermen Brooke, Howard, Dumas, Frink, and Barnhill) continue to fail these basic lessons in civic stewardship, then, at a minimum, citizens should dog this council and keep any deal from occurring before these six can be replaced in the next election.


Oneida Landing Condos: Here We Go Again?

Another project afoot that has a bullet is the Oneida Landing condo project that will put 35 residential condos across from Wonder Bread directly on the riverfront. The concept of riverfront condos is not what is objectionable. It is the location of this particular riverfront that is. The same dangers that existed with the casino hotel on the downtown riverfront exist here in even greater proportions because of flooding.

How many times do we have to say it? If it floods, don't build there!

No amount of flood mitigation will protect surrounding properties. If you build in a location where it absolutely floods, then you displace that water to other areas. Period! There is no getting around this principle. Greed is no excuse for endangering our community. If this project proceeds, the properties upstream, including the East Village, will be at unprecedented risk.

Can we get in front of this now so it doesn't become another civic battlefield? How about considering the Wonder Bread factory property itself (assuming it is well out of the floodplain) for the project? It has all the great views, and a footprint already exists for a substantial building. There are several locations in that area north of River Drive that would offer river views while not jeopardizing neighboring properties or ruining the view sheds of existing properties. Considerate thought with respect to development could win the day!


A Patriotic Joyride

On a more positive note, I want to share an experience I had recently with a lovely woman from Russia named Eda, who gave me a marvelous perspective that, upon hearing, I realized I had definitely misplaced.

We were talking about the obvious corruptions that plagued American politics and threatened our democracy. In summary, here's what she said:

"America is a teenager in the larger scheme of things. Every other culture on the planet has been in existence for eons, comparatively. I see America's problems as growing pains. America is the most amazing place on earth because Americans are such remarkable and beautiful people. Your culture has risen above all others in greatness because of your ability to peacefully and respectfully coexist amidst all manner of diversity, whether religious, ethnic, gender, socio-economic, racial, and so much more.

"I came from terrible hardship in Russia many years ago and became a United States citizen - something I cherish above all else. I am thrilled to be a part of a nation that allows for even its darkest weaknesses, such as racial prejudice, to be overcome by those who make the effort. In many cultures, if you are a different religion, or just come from a different region, not only is there no hope for getting ahead; you will likely lose your life if caught trying. Americans can't imagine that kind of degradation because the majority of your hearts are filled with tolerance and forgiveness for one another. There is nowhere else on this planet where the moral strength of peace and celebration for cultural differences actually works and thrives."

After my conversation with Eda, I felt exhilarated, prouder than ever to be an American, and completely hopeful. She acknowledged that Americans are facing a crossroads of choices, and there is no question that ill-conceived policies have infected our government, but she and I both believe in this country's ability to overcome.

Sadly, it will take a good spanking in the form of such things as economic hardship, harsh political struggles for peace, and a renewed collective stand against injustice that will require our attention and energy, as it did with our founders and all those who fight to stay free and democratic. Today's Americans have no special dispensation from civic participation, although you'd never know it based on modern-day civic involvement and our horrific voter turnout.

Americans need to remember that our democracy is not laid in stone; it does not come with a guarantee. It is our constitutional right and privilege to be free, but only insofar as we are willing to protect it. We need to wake from our civic lethargy and galvanize an ongoing commitment to our freedom, not just for ourselves, but also for our children so that they can pass this honor-bound legacy on to all future generations.

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