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It’s Now or Forever Hold Your Chips PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Editorials
Tuesday, 10 August 2004 18:00
I want to thank all those who have called, written, and e-mailed me to express your thoughts, support, and encouragement of our efforts to inform the public about the 11-story hotel/convention facility/parking ramp the Rhythm City Casino wants to erect on downtown Davenport’s precious riverfront. The legitimate concerns and opposition to the casino’s proposed site for the hotel at the foot of Perry Street between Brady and Pershing streets must be conveyed to the 10 alderman who will ultimately decide this issue for the entire community. My fear is that the special interests that have the council’s ear emphatically favor the project.

As predicted, the casino hotel is enjoying a very fast track through city hall. By now, most of the council has seen the site plans via closed meetings that were held last week. Meanwhile, the River Vision Final Report will be introduced this month for approval, so that the entire riverfront plan, facilitated by Hargreaves Associates, can move forward.

This is key because the hotel is a component of the River Vision Final Report, as well. While the hotel is a separate issue for council consideration, the approval of the River Vision report is the first step. More importantly, however, is the proposed hotel’s inclusion in Davenport’s next Vision Iowa application, due in September, whose submission is for funding the implementation of Phase I of the River Vision plan. By including the casino’s hotel project in the application, it satisfies the state’s requirement for a proportionate degree of private-sector investment. Because the private dollars leverage the amount of Vision Iowa grants, the more private participation that can be shown means more state money coming back to Davenport. This is usually a good model, but when the project being leveraged is being fast-tracked without proper public scrutiny and input, the model works against itself and the community it is designed to serve.

Furthermore, by including the hotel as the private-investment component of the Vision Iowa grant application, the city obligates itself to the project. To make matters worse, if the site plan has not been approved, complete with comprehensive, detailed, nonnegotiable development agreements when the application is submitted, this negligence could potentially allow the casino to develop the project with far fewer constraints and/or controls than would have otherwise been mandatory, backed by state oversight.

So here it comes. Now, approving these steps has become time-sensitive and pressure is most certainly being applied to the 10 aldermen to move these issues along so that the River Vision Final Report is approved, followed by approval of the site plan for the casino hotel, and finally approval of the Vision Iowa application, which must be voted on with the August 26 council cycle to make the September deadline. Downtown officials feel compelled to make this first round of new Vision Iowa funding requests to be the first application in to get the first monies out. (See “What’s the River Vision Rush?” River Cities’ Reader Issue 481, June 16-22, 2004.). Never mind that the 10 aldermen have a fiduciary responsibility to the public to perform due diligence, which means navigating complex financial data that, to date, has a measure of bias, is incomplete relative to necessary comparative data, or simply unclear (such as the risk the taxpayers would be assuming based on new lease and taxing structures between the city and the casino proposed in the RSM McGladrey study), to name a few of the challenges that require time to absorb and synthesize.

Today, this week, ASAP, residents of this community need to contact all 10 of our alderman and Mayor Brooke and City Administrator Craig Malin to convey these concerns before it is too late. We need to widen our elected officials’ perspectives to include “we the people” and our objections to the site, not the hotel. No compelling argument has been made by either the casino management or the city leadership to convince stakeholders such as taxpayers, adjacent property owners, and any resident or visitor who enjoys our unique riverfront – where we boast a historic, functioning bridge that works in tandem with one of the great lock and dam systems of the mighty Mississippi River – to justify the site that is being unreasonably proposed.

Two studies have been done to examine adding a hotel to Davenport’s riverboat casino, but none is so site-specific as to not warrant considering locating the facility downstream just west of the Centennial Bridge. In fact, one of the independent studies reports a growth in the casino’s adjusted gross revenues of a mere 3.5 percent per year for at least the first five years based on an investment by the casino of approximately $18 million and another $18.8 million from taxpayers via the “city of Davenport, the RDA, and others.”

Other sticking points include things such as the hotel not being required to pay hotel/motel tax on complimentary rooms, which can be as high as 80 percent of occupancy; the infrastructural problems with city sewers and mains; the additional (making it nearly completely inaccessible) loss of public access to the riverfront precisely where it is most unique and compelling; an 11-story facility would make it one of the tallest buildings in downtown, giving it a disproportionate placement in our skyline, not to mention becoming the focal point of our River Renaissance efforts; the new sky bridge, originally intended to empty onto green space along the river, is now proposed to hook directly into the casino’s new parking ramp; much of the incremental revenue increases to the RDA would go toward casino-related project costs until it is paid for instead of community reinvestment required by law; no clear understanding of the risk to be assumed by the city is forthcoming in the studies, or within the casino’s proposal; no public discussions to negotiate greater revenue opportunities for the community, especially as it might relate to the increased revenues projected to be enjoyed by casino interests and in lieu of a 50-50 split in paying for the facility, to name a few.

Following are names and telephone numbers of Davenport’s city council. If you care about this issue, place a call and weigh in so that these elected officials know that if they betray the publictrust in this matter, re-election would be nothing more than wishful thinking.

Ward 1: Roxanna Moritz, 324-4752
Ward 2: Donna Bushek, 388-0507
Ward 3: Keith Meyer, 326-0469
Ward 4: Ray Ambrose, 324-7143
Ward 5: Bill Lynn, 326-3746
Ward 6: Bob McGivern, 359-7095
Ward 7: Barney Barnhill, 324-7670
Ward 8: Tom Engelmann, 386-2672
At large: Jamie Howard, 355-5516
At large: Steven Ahrens, 326-1581
Mayor: Charlie Brooke, 326-7701
City Administrator: Craig Malin, 327-6139

First Opportunity for the Public to Have Input
Levee Improvement Commission Meeting
Wednesday, August 11, 7 p.m.
10th Floor Conference Room, Kahl Building
Downtown Davenport
Special joint meeting with the city council to discuss, among other items: River Vision, role of Levee Improvement Commission, and Riverfront Hotel.
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