West Side Casino Under Construction Despite Water/Sewer Issues

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Developers of a West Side casino broke ground Monday despite an on-going battle with the city of Columbus over water and sewer rights. WOSU reports developer Penn National Gaming plans to move forward with construction.

A chance thunderstorms did not prevent some politicians and supporters of a West Side casino from attending its official ground breaking.

There was a shared theme among speakers.

“Rebirth…redevelopment…rebuild…restore the West Side.”

Many had a memory to share about the once-vibrant West Side. And all were excited about the possibilities of what a Hollywood casino might bring to the struggling community, including a projected $63 million in annual tax revenue.

Joanne Fulford, who lives on the East Side, wants to gamble. But she said a casino also could bring her some additional revenue. She has a stand a nearby flea market.

“I do think it will work because they’ll start bringing buses in. You know, a lot of people, they like to go to different stores and they revitalize Westland Mall and the flea market and all the areas around. And that’ll just benefit everybody on the West Side,” she said.

“It’s been a long time and a difficult time getting to where we are, and I’m anxious to get shovels in the ground and get this project rolling,” Tim Guyton, who chairs the Franklin Township board of trustees, said. Guyton said the casino will mean a lot for the city’s West Side.

“We’ll be looking at thousands of construction jobs followed by 2,000 permanent employees coming to work right on this site. This means new residents for the area and new customers for our businesses.”

Like Guyton said, though, the $400 million project has faced roadblocks.

First, it won a ballot initiative to move from its original Arena District site after public outcry over the location. Now it’s caught up in a battle for water and sewer rights. The City of Columbus has denied the services until the casino is annexed into the city. Penn National, which agreed to move from the Arena District to the West Side, says it wants its tax breaks first – and it’s suing the city and Franklin County.

Despite the apparent impasse, Penn National President Tim Wilmott said they’re moving forward.

“We wanted to get this project started. We wanted to get the jobs started here and we want to proceed going ahead. We’ll resolve the issues with the city and the courts or however. But it was important for us to get this project started and fulfill our commitments to Central Ohio,” Wilmott said.

Wilmott added the ceremony did not have an ulterior motive. “This is not at all to put pressure on the city or the county. It isn’t. It’s really about getting started for the West Side,” Wilmott said. When Penn National announced it was moving to the West Side, Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman and Wilmott gave each other a man hug. A year later, Mayor Coleman was nowhere in sight.

“No, the mayor does not typically attend groundbreakings that are not in the City of Columbus,” Coleman spokesman Dan Williamson said.

The mayor, though, was not invited…casino representatives say they felt it would have been uncomfortable for both parties.

Williamson has said in the past the city supports a casino. And Williamson continues to say Penn National should keep its promise to annex.

“They can have water and sewer as soon as they annex. Obviously we wouldn’t give them water and sewer services to them if they did not annex, that doesn’t make sense,” he said.

Penn National President Tim Wilmott does not seem discouraged by the water/sewer fight. He said they won’t need it until a certificate of occupancy is issued near the end of construction.

“So we have about 18 months to work this out.”

The casino is expected to open sometime in late 2012.

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