Sunday, January 11, 2009

The grand plan for a Port Huron Casino complex: Will Gov. Granholm deliver Obama?

excerpted from a column by Mike Connell published on 1.11.09 in the Port Huron Times Herald:

...For a time, it appeared a casino might become the money-making engine.

In a deal put together a year ago by Gov. Jennifer Granholm, the Bay Mills Chippewa would build a casino-hotel on 22 acres at the foot of Court Street. Tribes don't pay property taxes, but Bay Mills agreed to fork over a share of casino revenues estimated at $30 million a year.

In exchange for the 22 acres, Acheson Ventures also would have taken a percentage of the casino's gross revenues.

The income stream would have built a permanent Maritime Center at Vantage Point. There also was talk of creating an Aquarium of the Great Lakes, a tourist draw similar to the National Aquarium on Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

Port Huron's congressional delegation pledged funds for a mile-long promenade on the river's edge from the Military Street Bridge to the Seaway Terminal, where the walkway would hook up with an extension of the Wadhams-to-Avoca hiking trail.

These ambitious plans attracted feelers from other developers, including a well-known company that considered building a high-rise hotel attached to an indoor water park.

Mike Malik, a Detroit developer with connections to the Ilitch family, won a contract to develop the casino for Bay Mills. Malik, a native of Algonac, collects Chris-Craft and other antique boats. He talked of opening a museum to house his collection.

Meanwhile, the local rumor mill buzzed over reports that Malik might convince Mike and Marian Ilitch to build a three-rink hockey complex near the YMCA as a home for the International Silver Sticks.

This particular rumor also included talk of replacing McMorran Place with a minor-league ballpark for an unspecified Tigers' farm team. It would have been the hub of a downtown entertainment district.

How much of this was pie-in-the-sky nonsense is hard to know, because it all became moot when Detroit's now-disgraced mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, decided Port Huron could not have a casino.

He won the backing of the Detroit newspapers and political allies such as his mother, Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Rep. John Conyers, the influential chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

MGM Mirage and the Saginaw Chippewa also opposed letting Port Huron compete with two casinos across the river in Canada. They threw money at Congress with predictable results.

Kwame Inc. ultimately killed the governor's deal and left Acheson looking for a Plan B.

Fortunately, time is on his side. Unlike the typical developer, who must recover an investment without dawdling, Acheson has the luxury of waiting for better times.

His luck may be turning, too...

There are other reasons for optimism, too.

The governor, who was embarrassed by the Kilpatricks at last year's congressional hearing on the casino, has new influence in Washington because of her friendship with President-elect Obama. The casino may not be as dead as its opponents hope...

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certainly must reads!

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