Casino On Muskegon Ballot Again

September 12, 2003
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MUSKEGON — Proponents of a successful advisory question on casino gambling will push ahead with their plans, even as city voters again are asked their views on the issue in a pair of November referendums.

Securing demonstrable public support for the concept was “probably the biggest obstacle or the biggest hurdle” to overcome for now in pursuing an Indian-run gambling casino for Muskegon, said Dave Wendtland of the Archimedes Group. Passage of the Sept. 9 advisory question allows the coalition of businessmen to move forward in earnest on linking with an Indian tribe that’s willing to pursue the lengthy and uncertain process of winning state and federal approval for a downtown Muskegon casino.

The Archimedes Group, working with a Florida-based development group, sees a downtown casino on the site adjacent to the Shoreline Inn & Suites as providing a catalyst for new development and redevelopment in and around the business district, creating up to 1,000 new jobs.

“We’re pleased that the community has seen fit to express its opinions that there would be a reason for additional and needed development in our core city,” Wendtland said. “We continue to move forward with the process.”

City voters backed the question of whether they supported casino gambling in Muskegon by a vote of 3,323-2,845, a 54 percent to 46 percent margin of victory. Twenty-four percent of registered voters cast ballots in the election.

The Archimedes Group, Wendtland said, has already talked to “a number of” tribes about its vision.

If the group is successful in securing a tribal agreement, it faces what would undoubtedly become a long and contentious process that could take several years to secure state approval for an Indian-run casino, if at all. Paramount to the process is whether Gov. Jennifer Granholm is willing to support additional casino gambling in Michigan.

As that possibility plays itself out, the debate will soon begin on two referendums on casino gambling that the Muskegon City Commission, acting on a judge’s order, placed on the November ballot.

One stems from a petition drive the Archimedes Group launched prior to requesting the advisory election on casino gambling. It asks voters to approve a new city ordinance allowing a commercial casino in Muskegon.

A separate proposal, initiated by a petition from the owners of the West Michigan Dock and Market Co., asks voters to approve an ordinance for a “charity” casino whose profits would go to support community organizations in the area.

Either proposal, if passed, would require changes in state law to accommodate a commercial casino anywhere but in Detroit, a change that will likely prove difficult to obtain from lawmakers and most certainly would face stiff opposition from the owners of the three Detroit casinos as well as Indian-run casinos elsewhere across Michigan.

Opposition to both ballot proposals will come from Positively Muskegon, a group formed earlier this year to promote a good image and new investment for Muskegon and which campaigned against last week’s ballot question. The group believes a casino would hinder ongoing efforts to revitalize downtown and represents a bad mix with the development and redevelopment that’s planned or has already occurred.

Though disappointed by last week’s results, Positively Muskegon founder Dave Willerup was pleased that the group was able to help generate 46 percent of the vote against the ballot question.

“We intend to use that 46 percent, with the lessons learned, and build on that between now and November,” Willerup said. “We’re not going away.”

Willerup attributed the support for the ballot question to the economy that has pushed the city’s unemployment rate to near 14 percent. The vote indicated “very strongly that people need work.”

In that respect, the results actually reinforce Positively Muskegon’s mission of “helping to bring new investment to Muskegon and helping to bring industry to Muskegon,” Willerup said.           

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