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Gaming selection panel recommends Pinnacle's proposal for former NL site

The St. Louis County Economic Council has found its "pinnacle" proposal for a south county casino.

The Port Authority Board of Commissioners last week accepted the recommendation by its gaming Selection Committee — comprised of county officials and a member of the Lemay Chamber of Commerce — that Pinnacle Entertainment's proposal to develop a casino at the former National Lead site in Lemay would best suit south county. Despite up-to-the-announcement enhancements by Isle of Capri — which proposed an Oakville site west of Jefferson Barracks Bridge — including a one-time issuance of $10 million to clean up the former National Lead site, the selection team chose Pinnacle Entertainment's proposal. Pinnacle also was recently selected by the city of St. Louis to develop a casino downtown in Laclede's Landing.

The Pinnacle proposal for south county, according to an Economic Council news release, claims that it will bring $300 million in direct investment, generate 2,000 jobs, provide $43 million to school districts and give a minimum of $40 million to community development funds.

"Pinnacle we felt provided, overall, the best economic development opportunities for an area in the county, Lemay, which needs that investment very dearly," said Denny Coleman, chief executive officer of the Economic Council and chairman of the casino selection committee.

"And not only their investment, but the new public infrastructure, the roadway and accessibility will open up that area for additional investment down the line," he added, referring to Pinnacle's plans to improve access off Interstate 55 to the site by constructing a new roadway.

Pinnacle's Chief Executive Officer Daniel Lee definitely was pleased with the hand his company's proposal had been dealt, but insisted the quality of his proposal and not luck ultimately is why the selection committee recommended Pinnacle.

"I couldn't think of a better proposal," Lee told the Call. "We're remediating an environmental problem site. We don't have the problems of the neighborhoods around Jefferson Barracks Bridge with the national cemetery and the VA hospital, a school and all of that. We're building a four-lane road, which would be an asset to the community. A lot of our money is going to non-gaming amenities ... And frankly, it does make it easier going to the Gaming Commission with the two (proposals from both the city and county)."

Referring to a public hearing conducted two weeks ago by the Economic Council, Lee spoke of the support Pinnacle is receiving from Lemay and south county residents.

More than 1,000 people attended the Feb. 4 hearing at Mehlville Senior High School.

"Certainly the unions were there in force and we were happy to see that," he said. Lee had announced during the hearing Feb. 4 that if selected, labor for the south county casino would be 100 percent union. "But it wasn't just the unions. There were quite a few people there who weren't members of unions who got up and spoke in support. In fact we had a poll done ... that shows the residents of the Lemay area are pretty strongly in favor of a casino there ... confirming what we believe."

Asked if Pinnacle would have called for a moratorium on a county proposal if Isle of Capri had been selected instead, Lee responded, "I think we would have each wound up at the Gaming Commission asking them to resolve it.

"What are you going to do? The Gaming Commission is the ultimate arbiter in all of this,'' he added.

Lee is not bothered knowing that a previous proposal for a casino at the former National Lead Site was rejected in 2000 by the Missouri Gaming Commission.

"I think before the Gaming Commission rejected because of their concern of the impact on the downtown facility — the same concern that we'd have if someone else had gotten the county and we had the city ... And so the Gaming Commission has stated repeatedly that they're very concerned about redevelopment of downtown St. Louis. So, in order to protect downtown St. Louis they went with Jefferson County instead of the Lemay site ... Now it's the opposite,'' Lee said.

The company can afford, he said, to build and develop both casinos at the same time and market them so differently that the Lemay site actually would help the downtown market — a different set of circumstances, he said.

Coleman agreed with Lee and told the Call the Pinnacle proposal is viable enough to be seriously considered by the commission despite the location's prior rejection.

"In our conversations with the Gaming Commission, they seem open to viewing a proposal from this site,'' Coleman continued. "I think they appreciated the efforts to build a new roadway. Accessibility would be an answer to that problem. I think that piece of it is unique."

Selection committee member Greg Hayden did not believe his membership in the Lemay Chamber of Commerce posed an unfair bias on the committee, but he acknowledged economic development in Lemay was a main factor in his decision process.

"I think that because of what Pinnacle brought to the table to open up the door for redevelopment in the Lemay area was a big factor," Hayden told the Call. "And of course, both proposals, dollar for dollar were close, I think that was a big part of it — what they could bring down to Lemay."

During the next 60 days, the Port Authority and Pinnacle will negotiate a final agreement to present to the St. Louis County Council for ratification. If an agreement is not reached with Pinnacle, Coleman said the Port Authority would have no problem negotiating an agreement with Isle of Capri because it "also offered a very competitive proposal." He described Isle of Capri's proposal as a "close second" to Pinnacle's.

After negotiations have completed with a gaming developer, according to Coleman, all information concerning the proposal will be forwarded to the County Council for consideration.

Once and if county councilmen approve the proposal, the Gaming Commission will be the final entity to review Pinnacle's plans for a casino in Lemay.

County Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, told the Call he would seek public input through additional forums before casting his vote in favor or opposition to any gaming proposal to south county.

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