Posted Online: Jan. 03, 2013, 10:45 pm

Davenport casino awaits approval

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By Stephen Elliott

Davenport city administrator Craig Malin suggested Thursday that the city council not express a preference when evaluating three multi-million-dollar casino development proposals for a land-based, city-owned casino.

Mr. Malin was briefing fellow Davenport Community Improvement Corporation members on upcoming casino-related events.

Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba appointed the seven-member nonprofit DCIC board — with city council approval — in November. The DCIC board will oversee casino operations if the city goes through with plans for a new land-based casino.

Davenport has proposed buying the Rhythm City Casino from Isle of Capri for $46 million and moving it off the river to a location yet to be determined.

The Davenport City Council, Riverboat Development Authority and Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission all must approve the proposal before it can move forward.

Three casino developer proposals will be reviewed from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, at the River Music Experience. It's open to the public.

Proposals that made the Dec. 20 city deadline came from Restoration St. Louis, of St. Louis, Mo.; Ingenus Managment/Consulting, of Brainerd, Minn. and Atrium Holding Company, of Alpharetta, Ga.

The DCIC board will be part of a 17-member interview panel that includes Mayor Gluba, aldermen, RDA members, consultants and a representative from the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce.

"My suggestion for my bosses (city council) is that they do not focus on one clear winner," Mr. Malin said Thursday. "And, they don't express a preference. Then, you're putting yourself in a marginalizing negotiating position.We have three excellent proposals."

Mr. Malin said a developer could be picked by the end of February.

At the beginning of Thursday's DCIC meeting, Mr. Malin said he didn't want to chair the meetings, and suggested that DCIC member Kelli Grubbs, a Davenport attorney and businesswoman, chair the meetings.

The board approved his recommendation.

During the board's first meeting in December, Ms. Grubbs suggested the DCIC hire two additional members — with business and financial experience — creating a nine-member board.

"This is a huge commitment for the city to ask of the taxpayers," Ms. Grubbs said after the meeting."If we're doing that, the most important thing we can do is find people with good financial experience to be on the board to analyze what the proposals are and to be capable of raising red flags."

DCIC member and RDA president Mary Ellen Chamberlin said the city has been generous in its dealings with the RDA, which receives 4.1 percent of the Rhythm City's adjusted gross revenue and no less than $2 million annually in its contract with the Isle of Capri.

Since 1991, the RDA has awarded more than $53 million of those casino gaming receipts to community organizations and projects throughout the Quad-Cities, through grants.

Declining revenues have made the $2 million minimum the norm in recent years, Ms. Chamberlin has said.

Mr. Malin has said the city estimates a city-owned, land-based casino would generate about $3.85 million annually for the RDA, which holds the gaming license.

However, there still are concerns about whether the RDA will approve the city's proposal. The 12-member RDA board has not voted on granting the gaming license yet for a new casino.

"We (RDA) would be very hard put to say we could get the same amount of money from a private developer," Ms. Chamberlin said. "From the perspective of the RDA, this has been a very generous proposal."

"I hope it will be approved by the board," she said. "Their (RDA) question is more along the line of, 'should we do it?' than problems with the contract" proposal.

DCIC member and Ald. Jeff Justin, 3rd Ward, told Ms. Chamberlin that, "from the city's perspective, we can't get there without your support."

"If there is a schism, it's not over the terms of this contract," Ms. Chamberlin said. "I'm not sure what it is."

The DCIC plans to meet again on Jan. 24 and hopes to appoint the two new members. Those plans are pending city council approval, which could come at the council's Jan. 23 meeting.