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Dozens of south county residents attended the Missouri Gaming Commission's March 31 meeting at the University of Missouri- St. Louis campus to make known their support for Isle of Capri's proposal. Pictured, from left, are: Lily Vitale of Oakville, Edith Blaho of Oakville, Hazel Zeiter of Lemay and Sylvia Fogarty of Oakville. Bill Milligan photo (click for larger version)

Lemay residents overwhelmingly support casino, survey finds

Jayne Blaes makes a statement outside the tent where Gaming Commission members met April 1 to tour the Isle of Capri site at the southwest end of the Jefferson Barracks bridge. Bill Milligan photo (click for larger version)
Lemay residents overwhelmingly want a casino built on 80 acres of county-owned land near the mouth of the River Des Peres, according to a survey released last week by the St. Louis County Economic Council.

"Lemay residents recognize the job creation, economic development and tax revenue benefits that a casino would deliver to their community, and they support it,'' said Denny Coleman, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Council.

Coleman also served as chairman of a selection committee that endorsed Pinnacle Entertainment's proposal to develop a casino at the county-owned former National Lead site in Lemay. Pinnacle Entertainment's $300 million proposal calls for the construction of a casino, hotel, shopping mall, bowling alley and movie theater. Pinnacle predicts the facilities would generate about 2,000 jobs and also plans to build a new road along the River Des Peres that will connect the casino complex with Interstate 55.

The survey, requested by County Executive Charlie Dooley, was conducted from Feb. 24 through Feb. 26 by E. Terrence Jones, a University of Missouri-St. Louis political science professor. The survey polled 308 people who answered "yes'' when asked if they live in Lemay. At a 95 percent confidence level, the sampling error is roughly plus-or-minus 5 percent.

Among those polled, 76 percent favor a casino development at the former National Lead site, while 19 percent oppose the plan. Among respondents who indicated that their position was "strongly held,'' 57 percent favor the Pinnacle proposal and 15 percent oppose it.

When asked to explain their reasons, 71 percent based their support for the casino on the fact that Pinnacle Entertainment would be required to clean up all of the hazardous chemical waste left behind when the site closed. Eighty-five percent of those surveyed said an aquatic and community center with a swimming pool would benefit Lemay.

The survey findings were presented to Missouri Gaming Commission members who toured the Lemay site April 1.

"Gaming is the only type of industry that works at this site,'' Coleman told the Gaming Commission. "No other developer could afford to clean up the site. There are no other opportunities for this site.''

Asked if Pinnacle would remove PCBs and heavy metals from the site, Coleman said, "Yes. They're going to haul it all away.''

The contamination is buried from between 12 and 18 feet on the north end of the facility where Pinnacle would operate its main gambling floor.

"This specifically settles it for us,'' Coleman said. "The Lemay community has a population a little over 17,000. How (Dr. Jones) gets accurate numbers from that, I don't know. But the people holding anti-casino signs aren't from Lemay.''

Coleman presented the commission a map of underdeveloped property along the River Des Peres from the National Lead site to an area north of the Heine Meine baseball fields, including 40 acres of what used to be the Defense Mapping Agency.

"We've always had our sights set on developing here first,'' Coleman said. "Afterwards, we would play off of this site for additional development.''

On Feb. 10, Pinnacle was chosen by both St. Louis city and county governments to operate casinos within their borders. The city facility is proposed at Laclede's Landing, across from the Edward Jones Dome.

Pinnacle Chairman Daniel Lee told the commission the casino downtown would be marginally profitable and that his company could not afford to operate it unless the company received the license for a south county facility to operate as well.

"We think the south county market is very exciting,'' Lee said. "But (the Gaming Commission's) votes are the only ones that count.''

During a Gaming Commission meeting March 31 at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, four companies seeking approval to develop casinos in the St. Louis region presented their proposals.

Both Pinnacle Entertainment and Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. presented proposals to develop casinos in the city of St. Louis and in south county. Isle of Capri is proposing construction of a 70,000-square-foot gaming facility west of the Jefferson Barracks Bridge. The company's south county proposal also would entail a 30,000-square-foot non-gaming entertainment and hotel complex, which could generate 1,265 jobs. Isle of Capri originally had proposed a nearly $170 million project in south county, but later increased that to more than $300 million to include a 311-room hotel, a $5 million water park and $10 million to clean up the former National Lead site in Lemay.

The Gaming Commission also heard proposals from Harrah's Entertainment Inc., which is seeking to develop a casino in south county, and the Riviera Gaming Corp., which is seeking to develop a casino near Barnhart in Jefferson County.

Harrah's Entertainment Inc. is proposing to build a 90,000-square-foot casino south of Interstate 270/255, west of the Jefferson Barracks Bridge and near Bussen Quarry.

The company also proposed a 180,000-square-foot non-gaming facility that would include a multi-purpose entertainment complex with restaurants. The project would cost $275 million and generate from 1,300 to 1,350 jobs. Harrah's, unlike Isle of Capri and Pinnacle, did not respond to the city's similar request for proposals in November. Harrah's contended, during a Dec. 18 public meeting, it could not establish or guarantee a particular downtown site and decided to solely pursue a county location.

Dozens of south county residents attended the Gaming Commission's March 31 meeting to show their support for the Isle of Capri's south county proposal.

"My husband is buried at J.B. (Jefferson Barracks) National Cemetery and neither me or any of his friends sees anything wrong with putting a casino near there,'' said Oakville resident Lily Vitale.

The next day, Gaming Commission members visited the sites of the three casinos proposed for south county and site of the Riviera Gaming Corp.'s proposal south of Barnhart at the Martin Marietta Quarry.

South county residents, including members of Kids First, who oppose the Isle of Capri's proposed south county casino, made their feelings known to Gaming Commission members when they visited the site. Among the opponents' concerns is the proximity of the Isle of Capri site to Beasley Elementary School.

One of those opponents was Jayne Blaes, whose son attends Beasley Elementary School. Blaes said she doesn't want the extra traffic around the school.

During a presentation to the Gaming Commission, Isle of Capri President Bernard Goldstein said, "This will be our best casino.''

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