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Councilmen begin three-session meeting on casino proposal for National Lead site


Concerned over some aspects of Pinnacle Entertainment's proposal to construct a casino in Lemay, County Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, had many questions he wanted answered during a meeting in Clayton earlier this week.

The County Council began a three-session Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday — after the Call went to press — to begin consideration of a proposed south county casino.

Negotiations between Pinnacle Entertainment and the St. Louis County Port Authority ended two weeks ago and all related materials and documents were forwarded to the County Council and formally received last week. The agreement requires Pinnacle to invest no less than $3 million in its entire project, which could include a 90,000-square-foot casino with 100 hotel rooms, and 280,000 square feet of non-gaming facilities, including retail, commercial and entertainment centers.

The Port Authority also would require Pinnacle to spend at least $4 million on community facilities, including an aquatic center, according to the lease and development agreement.

In its first year of operation, Pinnacle estimates that it could bring a total of $25.5 million in revenue for the area, including:

• $13. 9 million for St. Louis County.

• $4.3 million for area school districts.

• $1.2 million for the Lemay Fire Protection District.

• $4.9 million in rent to the Port Authority.

• $1.1 million to other taxing districts.

Councilmen were scheduled to hear representatives from Pinnacle Entertainment deliver an informational presentation on the proposal Tuesday, after which councilmen could ask questions and discuss the matter. However, no members of the public not involved with the presentation could have speaking privileges at Tuesday's meeting.

Councilmen were scheduled to adjourn and then reconvene that same session for a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 6, at Hancock Elementary School, 9101 S. Broadway — an unprecedented action by the council, according to Chairman Skip Mange, R-Town and Country.

The council, which meets in the County Administration Building in Clayton, never has met formally at a different location. The May 6 meeting is intended to draw south county residents to a forum that is closer to their homes, Mange said.

However, any citizen who speaks during the May 6 hearing conducted in Lemay will not be permitted to speak during a third public hearing in mid-May, which will be conducted in the Council Chambers of the Administration Building, but has not been scheduled, according to Mange. The mid-May session will be the conclusion of the council's three-part hearing.

"There's a whole lot here to take into consideration and we're going to hear from everyone," Mange told the Call. "We'll determine after that what further steps we want to take ... This is unprecedented for the County Council. We want to give the people down there (in Lemay) in the immediate vicinity an opportunity to speak."

The two May hearings will not include presentations by representatives of Pinnacle or the county.

"We then want to give everyone else in the county a chance to speak in Clayton ... It really is one continuous hearing. We want to hear from everyone," Mange said, noting that he encourages people who plan on speaking to also submit their comments in writing for the record.

Comments also can be mailed to the County Council at 41 S. Central Ave, St. Louis, Mo. 63105.

Before Campisi hears additional concerns and questions from 6th District residents about the Lemay proposal, he has a few concerns he would like Pinnacle to address. Going into those meetings, he had made multiple requests and asked many questions of Pinnacle Entertainment, of which he expected answers by Tuesday.

"My first and foremost concern is to make sure that if this goes through, I want all of that money going back to the schools. And I'm not going to take no for an answer," Campisi told the Call. "... I think a lot of people in the area feel the same way I do. This is going to have to be worked out with the casinos and I want to hear about it at public comment. Maybe there's something I'm missing — besides the moral issue."

The councilman met last week with Daniel Lee, Pinnacle chief executive officer, and requested documents related to potential foundations that could be formed by Pinnacle to help the Lemay area. Campisi wanted more details surrounding the road construction and enhancements that would result in a new route to the proposed Pinnacle site, if approved. Pinnacle is promising a four-lane extension of Carondelet and Weber avenues from Lemay Ferry Road to the Lemay site to provide better access to the former National Lead site.

Campisi also prodded about the company's financial status, he told the Call, questioning the company's financial ability to take on two new casinos and additionally requesting how much money it takes for Pinnacle to operate the company's out-of-state gaming facilities. The city of St. Louis also has selected Pinnacle to construct a casino in Laclede's Landing, across from the Edward Jones Dome.

Campisi also asked for and is studying the recent lease agreement between the St. Louis County Port Authority and Pinnacle Entertainment.

"Here's what I'm looking for," Campisi said of his interest in the Port Authority lease agreement. "I want to know where the money's going. Back when people first let casinos into Missouri, all that money was supposed to be going toward the schools. And where is this money going? I'm not going to let it go back into the black hole of the (county's) general fund."

Campisi also raised concerns over a potential agreement for Pinnacle to pay lease payments in lieu of taxes and he requested more details surrounding the community facilities that could be built by Pinnacle.

Still, Campisi told the Call he hadn't had much time to review the agreement and he knew more questions were to come — one of the reasons he decided to sponsor a public forum tonight — April 22.

Aside from the council's three-part hearing, Campisi wanted to conduct his own forum to offer one more opportunity for residents to share their opinions with him.

The public forum will be at 7 p.m. at Oakville Senior High School, 5557 Milburn Road.

Despite all the opportunities for public comment, Mange agreed that councilmen are frustrated with the lack of time to consider the proposal, as the Missouri Gaming Commission is planning to make its decision regarding all St. Louis gaming proposals in mid-June.

Additionally, the commission tentatively scheduled its public hearings for St. Louis gaming May 24 and May 25. For a list of finalized hearing times, dates and locations, visit the Gaming Commission's Web site, www.mgc.state.mo.us.

"That puts us under a little bit of a crunch," Mange said. "That doesn't give us much time. One of the problems is that we've been, under law, shut out of the process. No gaming company has been permitted to speak with elected officials. They just finished (negotiations) last week, handed this to us and yet we've been put under time pressure to make a recommendation between now and the gaming commission's recommendation.

"The Missouri Gaming Commission will make a decision if we don't give them a recommendation ... That, in essence, is a no-decision on our part. If we don't tell them we either want it or don't want it, they won't have any guidance from us on which to base their decision,'' he added.

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