Proposed casino locations concern nearby residents

By Alyson E. Raletz

A south county resident who lives in disability-accessible housing fears her new next-door neighbor will be a casino.

“This is for our home,” said Pat Kern, who has lived at Gateway Accessible Housing III for three years. “Our life is here and we don’t want it to change, not for casino, not for anything.”

Gateway Accessible Housing III, a nearly five-year-old housing complex that caters to low-income and mobility-impaired residents, is on Kinswood Lane just south of Interstate 255/270 and roughly a half mile west of the Jefferson Barracks Bridge — the same area that two developers are interested in building a casino.

But attorney Tom Campbell of Gallop, Johnson and Neuman, who represents one of the gaming companies, the Isle of Capri, told the Call that its proposal would not displace the residents of Gateway Accessible Housing III.

In fact, he said, the Isle of Capri has never considered purchasing the property on which the housing complex is situated.

Three developers recently responded to the St. Louis County Port Authority’s request for proposals for a south county casino. In mid-January, a selection committee plans to recommend one of the south county casino proposals to the Port Authority.

While Pinnacle Entertainment, is looking to build a casino at the former National Lead Site in Lemay, two other gaming companies have selected locations near the Jefferson Barracks bridge.

“That’s right where we’re at,” Kern said.

Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. has proposed a 70,000-square-foot casino and a 30,000-square-foot non-gaming facility immediately west of the Jefferson Barracks Bridge and south of Interstate 270/255.

Harrah’s Entertainment submitted a proposal to build a 90,000-square-foot casino and a 180,000-square-foot non-gaming facility just south of Interstate 270/255 close to the Jefferson Barracks Bridge and near Bussen Quarry. This site is adjacent and just south of the Isle of Capri site.

Kern said she was worried the area would be selected by developers long before the Port Authority’s November deadline for proposals.

She began to worry several months ago when complex residents noticed a surveyor on the property who claimed to be measuring for a potential casino. She was concerned, she said, because she realized how attractive the site could be because it is easily accessible, especially since the recent widening of nearby highways and off-ramps.

Gateway Accessible Housing III, which offers subsidized duplex housing for at least 30 residents, features wide hallways, doors and wheelchair accessible bathrooms.

Kern said she feels safe and secure in her current home and believes it would be difficult to find a similar one in the county.

She said she knows of comparable housing complexes for disabled people with five-year waiting lists.

“All of our residents are very upset because, being disabled, you can’t just go out and get a place,” she said. ” … We are all disabled and we come here feeling that we have safety, that here we have a little bit of being out on our own and having freedom. We don’t worry about being broken into and things of this nature.”

Anyone who wants to visit the complex, she said, needs directions because not many other people live there besides the complex residents. The area is not secluded, but further away from suburban amenities.

“Now they want us by a casino?” she said. ” … We’re the only ones out here and we just felt that it was time that people knew we were here.”

However, Campbell said the Isle of Capri casino would be constructed on the east side of Koch Road where Kerr-McGee Corp. fuel tanks used to sit. The casino would neither cross Koch Road nor enter into Kinswood Lane — resting at least 1,500 feet away from Gateway Accessible Housing III.

From where the complex sits, he said it is possible residents might see the top of a proposed hotel, but he did not believe they would see the casino.

“Historically neighbors have found the Isle of Capri to be a very accommodating neighbor, a good neighbor,” he said. “There is a myth that casinos are associated with crime and vagrancy and loitering. That just isn’t the case at all. Missouri casinos are under the highest surveillance of any other location. The last place a criminal would commit a crime would be at a casino.”

Kern has been in contact and plans to meet with John Campisi, R-south county, to discuss the casinos proposed in her neighborhood.

She also has been in contact with Denny Hettenhausen, an Oakville resident who spearheaded previous efforts to stop casinos from coming to south county in the 1990s.

Hettenhausen led a group, Rally Against Gambling Expansion, that conducted a 40-day prayer vigil in cooperation with local churches and groups that opposed a gaming facility in south county.

“That would be a very tragic thing,” Hettenhausen told the Call speaking of the potential impact on residents of Gateway Accessible Housing III. “That place is where those people hang their hats and call home … They’re upset. I saw the concern on their faces. It’s just awful. They’ll just run right over anybody.”

She and other members of a current anti-gambling group, South County First, have been working to publicize Kern’s situation.

Also, for four months, the 30 members of South County First have been meeting to formulate a game plan to keep gambling out of south county. Hettenhausen said they plan to revive RAGE and conduct a similar 40-day prayer vigil beginning New Year’s Eve.

“We plan on fighting this until the bitter end — and we plan on winning,” she said.

She said she opposes all three gaming proposals, but she cited several specific reasons for the Jefferson Barracks Bridge sites, including her concern that people driving their children to Beasley Elementary School on Koch Road, which intersects with Kinswood Lane, would have to drive past a casino.

Adult entertainment should not be down the street from a school, she said.

Also, she said she is bothered that a casino would be so close to the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.

“It disregards all of our forefathers and family members who served their country,” she said. “It’s almost sacred ground … And the casino would be so close … People just don’t care. They’ll run right over anybody.”

She said the groups are aiming to stop more gambling in all of the region, including the city.

“The casinos have their foot in the door,” she said. “They have a few in Missouri and they won’t stop and leave us alone … There are (11) casinos in Missouri and that’s 60,000 people who are addicted to gambling who weren’t before.”

During her last campaign against gambling, more than 30,000 letters were sent to gaming officials asking them to leave south county alone. Hettenhausen said she plans to lead a similar letter campaign during the consideration of the current proposals.

Anyone who wants more information about South County First or RAGE can call Hettenhausen at 892-2962.