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May 17, 2005

Proposed Davenport-Isle deal a stinker

Regarding the proposed agreement between the Isle of Capri and the city of Davenport to re-arrange the downtown riverfront: I think it's a stinker.

The foundation of my doubts is the fact that the IOC is working hard and fast to create competition for its Davenport operation.

The Isle on May 10 was granted the right to build a hotel/casino complex in Waterloo. The Waterloo Courier, in reporting the IOC won the competition, said, "Promoters have said the proposed $98 million project would benefit from the IOC's deep pockets and ability to reinvest in the casino and 200-room hotel."

Waterloo is squarely within the area which IOC says will feed new customers into Davenport, if a hotel is built.

The Isle on April 26 signed a $65 million deal with Bettendorf. Features are a new convention center and a 250-room hotel to supplement the one already there.

Won't some of those prospective new customers the Isle promises Davenport decide to stop at the-just-off-the-interstate Bettendorf boat?

The Isle, at last word, is still contending for an unused license in Illinois, with a plan to build a gambling complex in Rosemont. The plan carries a half-billion dollar pricetag.

A new casino in northeast Illinois will hardly increase whatever little trickle of gamblers come from there to visit the Q-C.

Despite all this, and the springing-up of new casinos un-owned by the Isle, we are to believe that more gamblers will flock to Davenport -- 200,000 a year is the the number the Isle used in a recent mailer to the city's residents. Color me very, very skeptical.

The plan calls for a new hotel, to be connected to the boat, and a new parking ramp, to be connected to the hotel. There will be restaurants. There is talk of shops. It all will be neatly together, tucked away with a railroad track and a busy street between downtown and the people who are here ... to gamble. But we are to believe there will be more traffic, more economic benefit, to downtown than there is now. Color me very, very skeptical.

The plan calls for the city to issue $15 million in bonds, some of which would be used to pay for the parking ramp, which would be leased by the IOC. The city doesn't need another parking ramp. The city has two new and under-utilized parking ramps now.

The plan calls for the city to rebate to the Isle $7 million of whatever new real estate taxes are generated by the hotel. Such rebates are common to encourage investment in depressed urban areas. Calling downtown Davenport "depressed" in May of 2005 is a bit of stretch, though adding a new hotel to the mix won't help the ones already there. Color me very, very skeptical that this rebate is good policy.

What can be said of the plan for the city to buy the Black Hawk Hotel from IOC for $1? One councilperson asked at a Monday meeting that the development plan for the Black Hawk be included in the proposal. The suggestion was greeted with laughter by council members and the audience. What the city gets for its $1 is a pig-in-a-poke that will some day in some fashion cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

There are other financial provisions the impact of which on the city are from clear. They relate to the assessed value of the proposed hotel, the assessed value of the boat, the way in which hotel taxes can be assessed and in the substitution of new fees for old ones.

City council members begin their attempt to understand the implications at a work session at 6 p.m. Thursday at city hall. The meeting is part of a fast-track schedule that calls for a final council vote June 1, less than two weeks from now.

That's not much time to answer the question Ald. Bill Lynn, a professor of economics at St. Ambrose University, asked at a Monday meeting, "Is this economic development?"

He said he suspects a better use could be found for the proceeds of a $15 million bond issue.

Agreeing, no doubt, would be that substantial percentage of the city's population that does not want a hotel/parking ramp built on the downtown riverfront in any case.

Agreeing, no doubt, would be that substantial minority of residents who don't want gambling in town at all -- 30 percent of the citizenry voted against keeping the boats in a referendum two years ago. I'm skeptical this 30 percent wants to issue bonds on behalf of a gambling operation, or give it property tax breaks.

The proposed deal, with all its moral, aesthetic and financial implications, is critical to the city's future. And a test for the council's sense of smell.

John Beydler is news editor at Quad-Cities Online. email johnbeyd@qconline.com

Posted by jcb at May 17, 2005 03:10 PM

Comments

But John, what do you think of the alternative of doing nothing. No hotel. Just leaving the boat as is?

Don't we lose the possibility of growing LeClaire Park. Isn't there the possibility of losing the casino altogether. Then what is Davenport left with. No money to build the greenspace and river access everyone seems to crave so much.

Posted by: Anonymous at May 17, 2005 03:30 PM

We smell the decaying remains of common sense, a stinker indeed.

Posted by: the mf beel at May 17, 2005 07:34 PM

Seems to me that losing the casino wouldn't be the catastrophe everyone seems to think. Rock Island's downtown is losing Jumer's and nobody is freaking out. I'd like to see some actual facts about what kind of money the Davenport casino leaves here now...

Posted by: Anonymous at May 17, 2005 09:29 PM

You don't need a casino or a new hotel to help the city "grow" a park. Some people make it sound like the citizens of Davenport would be helpless without the casino interests to show them what to do!

Posted by: Anonymous at May 18, 2005 08:22 AM

You raise good points - yet more underutilized parking garages, the Black Hawk Hotel boondoggle (what else can you call it?), the tax give-back to a profitable gambling combination that hardly needs a handout from residents.

Projects like these take on a life of their own. The politicians, the Chamber, self-proclaimed business leader types - often in the real estate or construction business - get buck fever, and before you know it, we're giving away the farm and patting each other on the back over all the progress.

The final proof that the public is getting sold a bill of goods is the drive to ram this through before the (considerable) opposition solidifies. Turnout at the recent meetings proved there are a lot of people in town with questions about the deal. The city's response? Tweak the proposal and finalize it within the next few weeks.

If some guy with a $30,000-a-year job, a family, and mortgage payments on a Bell Avenue bungalow wants to let the Isle fleece him out of a few bucks at the poker table, that's between him and the dealer. The city doesn't need to get in on the act.

I live in Bettendorf, but I have a proposal for the city council. I'll build a house in Davenport if the city will give me an acre of park property - I have my eye on Prospect Terrace, which technically isn't even on the riverfront - build a three-car garage behind my new house, and rebate half of my property taxes for the next 10 years. This will be good for the city. It'll grow the tax base, bring people to town (form Bettendorf), and have a ripple effect through the community when I buy groceries, gas, etc. No doubt Davenport ONE, John Gardner and sundry aldermen will advocate for me.

The rotten smell wafting through the air along the levee isn't just the carp floating belly-up in the muddy Mississippi.

-- Guarnarius

Posted by: Anonymous at May 18, 2005 08:56 AM

Your article is "right on" point. Let common sense ring!

Posted by: Anonymous at May 18, 2005 10:31 AM

I live on the SW end of Davenport. My assest valuation just went up again. The third time in as many years and I haven't made any improvements in that time. "WHY", is my question. This last year they went up $4000. For what, so the city can excuse a firm that's making millions from some people, that are robbing their kids of food, so they can throw away their money, on some crap table! Also, I believe the riverfront is on public national land, that the Corp of Engineers control, not the city of Davenport. I heard of a property owner in Buffalo, that lived up off the river and wanted to put in a concrete ramp and dock for his boat, on the Mississippi waterway and the Corp of Engineers stopped him, because he was going to put a permanent structure, of sorts, on a public (national) waterway land area. Why then can Davenport give permission to construct a permanent structure, along a national waterway? GOOD QUESTION, AYE!

Posted by: Anonymous at May 18, 2005 10:45 AM

Obviously the major problem with the plan is due to the new hotel. It would be great to shift the casino more to the side, and an expanded park would be great. The city is in love with the deal b/c the parking spaces would be 'sodded' over, forcing patrons to use the (brand new & unused) parking ramps. And wouldn't everyone love to walk across the skywalk-to-nowhere? Maybe we can get them to drop the hotel out of the plan. Yeah right, seems like we're simply gonna get railroaded on this one.

Posted by: Haugen at May 18, 2005 01:07 PM

Ah ha! Force motorists into the revenue-producing but empty parking ramps - that's worthy of Catbert.

-- Guarnarius

Posted by: Anonymous at May 18, 2005 03:31 PM

The Corp of Engineers may not approve of the proposed site for the boat. Then the boat could just stay where it is and everything to the east to the roller dam will be clutted with more concrte and cars and a ruined fishing area behind the dock.

Posted by: Anonymous at May 20, 2005 12:48 AM