Allegan Unsure Of GR Motives

March 21, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — Their director said they could understand an argument against it based on moral grounds. But the manager of the Allegan County Chamber of Commerce can't quite grasp the local opposition to a proposed casino in Wayland Township when the resistance is motivated by economics.

The Allegan chamber has backed a proposal for a new gaming facility offered by the Gun Lake Band of Potawatomi Indians since last May because a study done by the tribe said the casino will generate 4,300 jobs, bring more tourists into the county and create opportunities for existing businesses.

"We have 225 members, and I don't speak for every one of them, but the people that I have spoken with have been positive," said Linda Ferris, ACCC director.

"It's one of those things that we're still trying to figure out — except for the almighty dollar, why Grand Rapids is so opposed to it and why it really matters so much that they are."

The most recent claim from the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, which is leading the resistance charge, is that the casino will siphon $66 million each year from businesses in Kent, Ottawa and Kalamazoo counties once it opens. Kent commerce would be the biggest loser, the chamber said, dropping $50 million annually.

GRACC repeated its opposition to the casino at a press conference it held recently with the Community Partnership for Economic Growth, a group of local business people the chamber helped organize. At the conference, the results of an economic impact study the pair paid the Anderson Economic Group of Lansing to conduct were released.

"The study confirms our worst fears. The casino will injure countless businesses and destroy twice as many jobs as it creates," said GRACC President John Brown.

Under one scenario, the report maintains that $92 million of the $162 million in revenue Anderson expects the casino to earn annually will come from "non-casino-gaming goods and services." Under another, the report maintains that $42 million of the $91 million in casino revenue will come from those sources. The study also asserts that the operation will result in a net loss of 3,100 jobs statewide.

"The majority of casino revenue will come from Michigan residents. These expenditures will displace income to persons and businesses in other industries, particularly travel, food and lodging," said Patrick Anderson, principal of the Anderson Economic Group and past chief of staff to the Michigan Department of State.

The Allegan chamber, however, doesn't think that analysis is real.

"I don't believe that at all," said Ferris. "I had heard that, to them, it would be the same tourist dollars that would just be transferred over to the casino instead of to their businesses, and I don't know where those stats come from. I don't know how they came to think that because I believe it will bring in a lot of new people."

The ACCC will meet with the tribe fairly soon to give the Gun Lank Band a chance to address chamber members on the casino and answer any questions they might have. The ACCC is also working with other area groups, such as the Wayland chamber, to put together a coalition to stress the positives that a casino could offer.

"You've heard a lot from Grand Rapids as to why they don't want it. But you haven't heard a lot from the pro side. And it's like the squeaky-wheel theory," said Ferris. "Some of the people are concerned about the moral end of it, which I can understand. But I haven't heard that in the Grand Rapids protest."

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is expected to decide in May whether the property the tribe has chosen for its casino, the former Ampro Industries site, can be placed in a trust.

GRACC has asked Gov. Jennifer Granholm to develop a method to evaluate the economic impact of future casinos in Michigan, including the one proposed for Allegan County.

"The biggest thing that bothers me with Grand Rapids is (they're not saying) it wouldn't be good for us — 'us' as a whole area," said Ferris. "(They're saying) it wouldn't be good for 'us' — as in 'Grand Rapids.' And I don't know where that comes from, either."

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