MONROE, Ohio -- A Native American tribe, searching to anchor a $250 million casino and entertainment complex in southwest Ohio, has turned its plans away from Middletown to this small financially, struggling community along busy Interstate 75.
Though casino gambling is not permitted by Ohio law, representatives for the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma envision a complex that could generate millions of dollars in development and thousands of jobs that could be a financial boon for the city of Monroe and the Butler and Warren county governments.
Tribe representatives have scheduled a press conference here today to unveil the project.
What is known is that the Eastern Shawnee tribe and its Ohio gaming development arm, National Capital I, already have a signed agreement with property owners -- Corridor 75 Park Ltd. -- to purchase about 150 acres in an industrial-commercial park southeast of I-75 and Ohio 63, according to Gary Becker, a Cincinnati attorney who represents the tribe.
The site -- which sits in both Butler and Warren counties -- gives the tribe some 3,600 feet of frontage along I-75, the kind of visibility and overall flexibility tribal leaders have long wanted, Becker said.
The location is key because millions of motorists -- and potential gamblers -- travel I-75 each year. And unlike the uncertainty surrounding the Middletown location, the tribe has a purchase agreement with property owners.
"We've reached a meeting of the minds," said Leonard Robinson, a Middletown-area broker and developer who owns the 798-acre Corridor 75 Park with Middletown attorney Greg Pratt and the Guttman family, who have interests in development and home building, much of it in the Cincinnati area.
"The document is ready for execution by the tribe," Robinson said.
On Wednesday, the tribal council is scheduled to formally approve an option to purchase the land, Becker said. The first step is not a straight purchase, but a legal step to cement their option to buy land later, Terry Casey, a Columbus-based consultant for National Capital I.
"The tribe has control of the property," he said.
The purchase price and other financial terms have not been disclosed.
Jay Stewart, Monroe's economic development director, said he has met with Becker and Casey and has received a broad outline about the project and its implications for this city of more than 7,000 residents.
In August, state Auditor Betty Montgomery placed Monroe in fiscal emergency after a fiscal analysis showed the city had deficits in 11 funds totalling $6.25 million as of April 30.
Stewart said he and City Manager William Brock have "individually" briefed City Council members.
"In general, it was very positive," Stewart said of council's reception. "Generally, they realize the huge impact that it would have for this area, to the city."
Council members have declined to comment, and Stewart is proceeding with caution.
"We're treating this like any other economic development project in that there is no guarantee whatsoever that it will materialize," he said.
Stewart said he could not provide specifics about possible revenue sharing between Monroe and tribe, saying the focus so far has been the land transaction. Talks about financial matters have only just started, he said.
"We're not counting on any money until we see the bulldozers out there or until a check comes in," he said.
The next step is having noted casino developer designer Lee Loveland, president Group West Cos. in Seattle, draft designs and concepts to best "optimize" how the land will be used and properties on it arrayed, said tribe consultant Casey.
Gov. Bob Taft remains opposed to casino gambling in the state, his spokesman, Orest Holubec said. The first step to launch an Indian gambling location in Ohio begins with the U.S. Department of Interior.
Ohio laws today allow forms of Class II gambling, such as bingo, instant bingo, pull-tabs, horse racing and some charitable gaming. Class III gaming includes games usually played at casinos, including roulette, craps, black jack or slot machines.