Casino Linked to Mall Concept in Ohio

Apr. 2--LIMA -- Betty Watson has a far grander vision for her homeland than just a casino.

Watson, developer for the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma's plans for a casino and retail resort along Interstate 75, said she envisions a mall complex similar to one at Easton Town Center along Interstate 270 near Columbus.

"It has an outdoor feel to it. There are shops that aren't in a big, huge boxed area," Watson said. "It just depends on what retail stores that we can negotiate. Usually, in those types of malls, you have a bunch of retail shops that go into those."

Easton was referenced for another project recently; the proposed revamp of the American Mall. Watson said the Shawnee project would actually be patterned more off the Viejas Outlet Center, an outdoor mall outside San Diego that has a casino at one end.

Watson is actually a member of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma and the chair of National Capital I, the company helping to develop several Shawnee projects in Ohio. Viejas has a number of buildings scattered around a park and water court, with a few stores in each building and open-air walkways around them.

Lima Mayor David Berger and Finance Director Steve Cleaves visited Viejas, as well as the Eastern Shawnee's casino in Oklahoma, in the early stages of negotiations with the Shawnee.

The tribe plans to build casinos first, then expand the retail area, tribe officials said. While the tribe has explored casinos in Lordstown, Massillon, Monroe, Botkins and Lorain, not all would have retail centers like the one forecast for Lima, she said.

"Each location will be different. We like the Lima location for this because it's close to the interstate," she said. A similar concept was proposed for an 800-acre site in Monroe. The proposed Lima site, Gateway Commerce Park, is 270 acres, though tribe officials said they're looking at other land nearby to expand it.

The tribe is hoping to reach an agreement with city and county officials for the land. The tribe sued Ohio and a number of municipalities, including Allen County, Lima, Shawnee Township, Fort Shawnee and the Johnny Appleseed Metropolitan Park District, in a land claim over territory the tribe roamed nearly 200 years ago.

So far, Lima City Council and the Allen County commissioners have balked at what they have perceived as a push to rush an agreement, and several on City Council have said they oppose the idea of bringing a casino to Lima.

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