Panel scheduled to making gaming recommendation next week

By Alyson E. Raletz

St. Louis County Economic Council selection committee members have one more week to decide which casino developer could be taking its chances on south county — Isle of Capri Casinos on an Oakville site south of the Jefferson Barracks Bridge or Pinnacle Entertainment, which has proposed a casino at the former National Lead Site in Lemay.

The committee, comprised of county officials, is scheduled to present its gaming selection and recommendation during a St. Louis County Port Authority meeting at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 10, at the World Trade Center, 121 S. Meramec Ave., Clayton.

Pinnacle has proposed a 90,000-square-foot gaming facility that would be attached to a 360,000-square-foot non-gaming facility. Its non-gaming facility would include a hotel, an outlet mall, a bowling alley and restaurants. The company also is considering developing land adjacent to the casino to be used for a park. Pinnacle predicts the facilities would generate about 2,000 jobs, with the project costing $300 million.

Isle of Capri, however, is proposing an Oakville site. It has proposed construction of a 70,000-square-foot gaming facility. The south county proposal also would entail a 30,000-square-foot non-gaming entertainment and hotel complex, which could generate 1,265 jobs. Isle of Capri estimates the project would cost $17 million.

Pinnacle was selected in the city’s concurrent request for proposals process to develop a casino downtown in Laclede’s Landing across from the Edward Jones Dome. Harrah’s, which also had proposed a casino south of Jeffer-son Barracks Bridge, was eliminated from the county pro-cess because it did not submit a companion proposal with the city, according to Denny Coleman, committee chairman and president of the St. Louis County Economic Council.

Coleman has told the Call Isle of Capri Casinos will not automatically be ruled out of the county’s selection process despite developers’ requests for a moratorium on the south county site if they were not selected by both the city and county. The county committee originally planned to make its recommendation in January, but panel members needed more time to evaluate the two remaining proposals, according to Coleman.

With almost a month of additional evaluation time, the committee decided to seek public input, visit functioning out-of-state casino sites, meet with the Missouri Gaming Commission, and again discuss the proposals with the respective developers.

A public forum, sponsored by the Economic Council, was scheduled to take place at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 4, at Mehlville Senior High School, 3200 Lemay Ferry Road.

“The forum allows us an opportunity to provide direct information from the selection committee as to the very specific benefits to the community of each proposals,” Coleman told the Call, adding that the committee had received direction from Port Authority members to conduct the hearing.

The committee also was looking to gain a great deal of information from the community via the forum, he said, that could have some effect on the committee’s decision.

The committee also will attempt to gauge the public’s response to a gaming presence in south county by meeting with representatives from area school and fire districts, such as the Mehlville School District and the Lemay and Mehlville fire protection districts.

“We have our own estimates as to what benefits would be with each of the districts,” he said. “We want to meet with them and see if our estimates are the same as theirs. Particularly school districts have different formulas that impact revenue and we want to double check our own figures before moving forward … those will all be available at the public hearing.”

Besides gathering public input, Coleman said committee members visited operating casino sites last week to better understand the operations that might come to south county. Members are visiting an Isle of Capri site in Louisiana and a Pinnacle site in Indiana.

Committee members were to evaluate the “scope and quality” of the operations, according to a press release.

“Most of the committee members are making visits today and tomorrow,” Coleman said Jan. 30. “With the additional 30 days we had at our disposal, we felt actually seeing the quality … in other communities, would give an indication of the quality they are proposing here.”

Though Coleman would not comment on specific concerns committee members have with the Pinnacle and Isle of Capri proposals, he said the committee will meet with the developers again to follow up and address any concerns before they make their final decision and after they have met with the Missouri Gaming Commission.

Coleman, who spoke with the Call immediately after meeting with Gaming Commission members in Jefferson City Jan. 31, said the meeting was productive, but commissioners were unable to reveal anything “definite.”

“They did reiterate, once again, their principal concern has been getting a quality facility in downtown St. Louis and that everything else is secondary to that,” he said. “They also indicated that with mostly new commission members (since the 2000 decision to reject the county’s proposal for a gaming site in Lemay), and once they get their fifth commissioner established, they will be in a situation with a whole new ball game. We will have a clean slate with this commission going about this selection.”

The committee, which is trying evaluate the commission’s response to the the city’s selection of Pinnacle before making a decision, Coleman said, still has a lot of information to consider and wade through even with the extended selection deadline.