Port Authority reopens gambling sweepstakes in south county

The St. Louis County Port Authority last week officially reopened the gambling sweepstakes in south county.

“The Missouri Gaming Commission has indicated that the suburban south area of the St. Louis metropolitan market is underserved and recommended that development applications for a new casino in that area be called for and evaluated,” Mark Brady of the St. Louis County Economic Council told members of the Port Authority’s Board of Directors June 10.

As first reported by the Call in early April, the Port Authority is seeking casino development proposals to replace a canceled lease with Southboat Ltd. Partnership.

Southboat investors had donated more than $120,000 to County Executive Buzz Westfall’s campaign for county executive by the time their casino plan was accepted by the Port Authority in 1995.

Westfall appointees on the Port Authority Board continued to renew Southboat’s lease each year since despite its inability to construct or operate a casino.

Proposals will be evaluated on the basis of “economic benefits, taxes, employment, lease payments and other revenue generated by any proposed gaming facility to St. Louis County, the Port Authority and south county in particular,” according to a June 12 release issued by the Economic Council.

References to “lease payments” indicate that the Southboat Partnership still is in play, according to Lemay Fire Protection District Board of Directors Chairman Jim Stonebraker, an outspoken opponent of the first casino proposal.

“I still don’t think that gambling is a good thing for any community,” Stonebraker said. “However, as an elected official I’m willing to sit down and take a look at any proposal.”

Stonebraker said that subsequent to losing its lease with St. Louis County he had been asked to “sit down” with Southboat President Dennis Long to discuss a proposal to locate a casino and outlet mall at the county-owned former National Lead Co. site in Lemay.

Last April, Long told the Call that the outlet mall was being proposed by fellow Southboat investor Dean Climer and that it would be operated by Westfield Co., an Australian-based retailer that owns several mall properties in the St. Louis area, including the Westfield Shoppingtown South County.

“Westfield has said they weren’t interested in the NL site unless we could come up with a major draw,” said Zane Yates, spokesman for Climer’s mall proposal. “A casino would be a major draw.”

Stonebraker said Yates was invited to his meeting with Long, but did not attend.

“I told them I could support the revenue it would mean to Hancock School District and Lemay Fire District if St. Louis Coun-ty agrees to sell the property, if any promised revenues or considerations were put in writing and if they agree not to issue any TIF (tax-increment financing) for the location,” Stonebraker said. “Denny (Long) told me that Buzz Westfall is not willing to put anything in writing.

“I think that Francis Slay and Buzz Westfall have been talking about this for a long time and I think the Lemay casino is still in the picture,” Stonebraker said. “I be-lieve they’re going to sell it to the Gaming Commission as ‘regional cooperation.’ But I think they’ll have a fight on their hands if they’re not willing to spell out their promises like that last lease they proposed.”

Casino proposals will be reviewed by a committee comprised of Economic Counsel CEO Denny Coleman, Economic Council Chairman Charles Wiegers, Economic Counsel General Counsel Elaine Wright, Port Authority Chairman Sheila Sweeney and County Counselor Pat Redington.

Each of the committee members actively supported extensions of the Southboat lease during the past five years even during years when Southboat partners could not build or operate a casino.