Westside groups place their bets on casino issue
One by one, organizations, associations and local governments are joining together in an effort to bring a casino to the Westside, although the margins of approval vary widely.
The issue of relocating the casino from the Arena District to a location on Columbus’ Westside has garnered much attention, both from supporters and opponents. When it comes down to a vote, however, most groups are finding that their memberships favor the development.
“The area now is dying fast. I feel that this would be the draw the area is looking for,” said Prairie Township trustee Steve Kennedy. “I think it makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons.”
Prairie Township trustees unanimously passed a resolution in support of the casino.
The Highland West Neighbors Association conducted an e-mail poll which showed the group favored the development by nearly 90 percent, according to president Geoffrey Phillips.
The Westgate Neighbors Association conducted a similar poll, however, and found that their majority was against the move.
Both Highland West and Westgate fall within the boundaries of the Greater Hilltop Area Commission, which passed a resolution to support the casino by a vote of 7-6.
Although the Westland Area Commission is not set to meet until later this month, chairman Mike McKay says the group is against the suggested Westside locations.
“The sentiment of the Westland Area Commission is that the business community isn’t necessarily pro casino. What they are is pro jobs and pro economic development. I think there are other ways to do that,” he said.
The Southwest Area Commission also will not meet until later this month.
Franklin Township, which is where Westland Mall and the former Delphi plant are located, had not met as of press time, although township voters did vote in favor of Issue 3 by 55 percent.
It has not yet been decided if the properties would be annexed into Columbus or how fire and police would be handled should developers choose a Westside location.
Approval to build a casino in Columbus was granted when voters approved Issue 3 on the Nov. 3 ballot. That vote, however, was for a casino to be built in the Arena District, specifically, 570 W. Nationwide Blvd.
Now that the city of Columbus is asking developer Penn National to look elsewhere, the state legislature has some quick work to do if it’s going to happen.
If developers can agree on a site, both the Statehouse and Senate must pass the changes by a margin of at least 60 percent and have it certified by the Secretary of State by Feb. 3 in order to make it to the May ballot.
If the issue is on the ballot in May, it would be a state wide issue and would ask for another constitutional amendment that, according to Rep. Ted Celeste (D-24), would only serve to change the location where the casino can be built.
E-mails from the Westside Messenger to Penn National were not answered.
“I voted against every casino issue that we’ve had before the state,” said Celeste. “It was passed by the people in the state. I think there is some positive opportunity for it here. I think it’s perhaps a window of opportunity.”
Rep. Cheryl Grossman (R-23) says the casino would be an opportunity for taxpayers within the South-Western City School district to lower their property taxes.
According to Grossman, the 7.4 mil levy the district passed in November is designed to collect a set amount of money.
“If they build a $250 million building, that building would be taxed and the money would go to South-Western,” she said, explaining the casino would absorb much of the increase felt recently be residents.
Is it the answer?
Is a casino on the Westside really the key to bringing back the neighborhood?
The Hilltop Business Association thinks it is.
“We’ve lost everything else out here. What’s the alternative?” said Dewey Stokes, HBA member and former Franklin County commissioner. “We’ve been suffering for 25 years, watching the area deteriorate.”
Stokes thinks a casino would be the catalyst the area needs to ignite growth on West Broad Street.
“If the casinos come, what would be the spinoff for small businesses? Right now we continue to see them close down.”
He also believes a casino would not increase crime in the area, a fear often repeated by opponents of the casino.
“Don’t wave the crime flag at me. How much crime can you get? There is a tremendous amount of security in those casinos,” he said.
According to Stokes, the HBA voted in support of either Westside location for the casino.
“Is there a better solution that might come in two or three years? It might, but if it doesn’t where are you?”