Casino Developer Agrees To Build On Columbus West Side

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The fight over an arena district casino may be over. The company looking to build a casino in Columbus now says a location on the west side is its best option. Penn National Gaming Tuesday agreed to build its casino at the site of the shuttered Delphi automotive plant on Georgesville Road.

Last week in downtown Columbus, Penn National Gaming became a landowner in the Arena District. Now says company President Tim Wilmott, Penn National also wants to buy a 123-acre site on the west side of Columbus.

“Honestly about 45 minutes ago we just signed an option for the Delphi site behind us,” Wilmott says.

Wilmott’s announcement on West Broad Street ends, for now, the fight over an Arena District casino. Voters in November changed the constitution allowing for a casino near Nationwide Arena. But business and political leaders vowed to stop it. Penn National, saying it wanted to be a good corporate citizen, agreed to look elsewhere. Wilmott says the Delphi site has the necessary elements the company is looking for.

“It has great highway access which was important to us to have a successful operation,” Wilmott says. “It’s also a brown field project which fits well with the intention of Issue Three to support urban renewal. It had strong local community support. And finally with 123 acres it gives us a great opportunity in terms of developing a very comprehensive master plan.”

Penn National had said that a casino in the Arena District – a 24 acre site – would not include a hotel or restaurants so as not to compete with surrounding businesses. Wilmott says that the much larger Delphi site would be much better suited for an all-in-one entertainment establishment. “Obviously we expect to have a large casino facility here with 3,000 slot machines and over a hundred table games,” Wilmott says. “We’ll look at the potential of a hotel; we’ll look at the potential of other mixed use development so entertainment is going to be a component of the development as well. So we want to provide a facility here that offers customers a breadth of experience – they can stay overnight potentially but also enjoy a night out for three or four hours and gamble and eat and be entertained.”

Penn National’s acquisition of property on the west side of Columbus is supported by a group of business owners in the area. They see the casino as a key to renewing their side of town which is faltering economically. Take for example Westland Mall which is virtually empty of businesses. One shoe shop still operating at Westland is owned by Jim Milner. While he opposes gambling he welcomes any economic renewal the casino might bring.

“We are glad the casino’s coming in as far as revitalizing the area, but I am not for casinos and gambling,” Milner says. “I am kind of unhappy that people will be spending their money on gambling rather than feeding their children and grandchildren.”

The west side casino is not a done deal. State lawmakers have to okay putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot and then voters would have to approve it – probably this spring. That’s why Penn National bought and is holding onto its Arena District real estate.

“The downtown site we had to close on because we don’t know the outcome of what’s going to happen over the next couple of weeks on the state level and in May with the vote,” says Wilmott. “If the voters say, ‘Let’s move the site out here to the west side,’ then we’re going to have to work with the city and the county to try to dispose of the site. We have no use for the site if this thing passes. Obviously we have to protect our interests to make sure we have the outcome in May to move.”

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