Waterloo, Iowa, Council Approves Zoning Changes for Possible New Casinos

WATERLOO, Iowa -- A historic downtown fire station didn't sink plans for a floating casino downtown.

Waterloo City Council members Monday approved zoning changes required for two casino proposals battling for what is expected to be a single state gaming license issued in Black Hawk County.

A request from Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. to rezone agricultural land generally southwest of the intersection of Highways 20, 380 and 218 for its proposed casino, hotel and entertainment venues north of the Lost Island Adventurepark sailed through on a unanimous council vote with little discussion.

But a proposal from the Cedar Valley Gaming Co. to rezone two downtown blocks bordered by West Fifth, West Sixth and Jefferson streets and the Cedar River for its proposed hotel, casino and parking ramp ran into a slight roadblock related to the potential demolition of the El Mecca Shriner's Building, 716 Commercial St.

The building is a former Waterloo fire station and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Representatives of Main Street Waterloo, a downtown redevelopment group, and the city's Historic Preservation Commission, both wrote letters to the council asking for the zoning to be approved on the condition the building wasn't demolished.

Council members voted 5-1 to approve the rezoning without such a stipulation, which had been recommended for passage by the city's Planning, Programming and Zoning Commission. Councilwoman Carolyn Cole was absent and Councilman Ron Welper voted against the zoning change.

"My concern is I'll vote yes on this, and the building will be torn down," Welper said.

Gary Hoyer, a Fort Madison lawyer serving as project manager for Cedar Valley Gaming Co., said he was aware of the feelings surrounding the historic building, which sits on property shown on site plans as a parking ramp.

"We're committed to working with them to resolve their concerns," Hoyer said, noting the project does involve renovating the Russell-Lamson Building to its "historic grandeur."

Downtown casino planners have discussed incorporating the old fire station's facade into a restaurant in the casino or leaving the facade on the exterior of the parking ramp. The group also notes it may revisit its parking plans if granted a license.

Hoyer hinted the City Council's previous decision to work exclusively with the Isle of Capri development is a roadblock for Cedar Valley Gaming to negotiate potential parking changes which would leave the fire station intact. That agreement would be null if the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission chooses to license the downtown facility.

Both proposed casinos are planning to apply for a gaming license through the IRGC by Nov. 10.