June 8 2011 12:00 AM

A petition drive to encourage bringing a casino to Lansing fails. Next stop: City Council

A coalition of volunteers aiming to bring a casino to downtown Lansing has hit a roadblock.

The Lansing Jobs Coalition, which announced in December a
petition drive that would have gauged Lansing residents’ support for
selling or entrusting city land to a Native American tribe for the
purpose of opening a casino, came up well short by Sunday’s deadline of
the necessary 4,101 signatures to place it on the Aug. 2 primary
election ballot. City Clerk Chris Swope said the group submitted about
3,400 signatures, of which 2,129 were valid. 

Ted O’Dell, chairman of the coalition, said Monday that
three “plans” existed for getting the referendum before voters. “Plan A”
was to get enough signatures by mid-May to get on the Aug. 2 primary
election ballot. “Plan B” is going to the Lansing City Council “in the
next several weeks” to see if it will vote to adopt it or put it on the
Nov. 8 General Election ballot. The Council can do either of those with
five votes. “Plan C” is to start the signature process all over again
and submit petitions before an Aug. 16 deadline in order to get it on
the ballot in November.

“All along, we’ve had a plan A, B and C,” O’Dell said. “We’re still excited about it.”

City Clerk Chris Swope said the City Charter allows the
Council to place a referendum on an election ballot with a majority
vote. The Council has until Aug. 30 to vote on that or it can simply
adopt the ordinance, Swope said.

But since O’Dell’s plan all along has been to go to the
voters rather than from the “top down,” as he told City Pulse in
December, he’ll have to make sure the Council is brought up to speed on
his plans, it seems.

“I’d like to know a little bit more about
the process,” At-Large Councilman Brian Jeffries said Monday. O’Dell
has also said he wants to bring the casino downtown. “What does it take
to have a casino? I’m a little concerned about that aspect of it. I
don’t know where you’d put it downtown.”

At-Large Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar was even more skeptical on Monday of the plan.

“We (as a city) should not have to be enticed by a letter
from Council saying ‘you’re interested’” in bringing a casino downtown,
she said. “When a Native American tribe is actually interested in
building, they can come to us. I don’t think it’s necessary to cast a
net to ask that.”

The proposed ordinance language reads, in part: “WHERE AS,
The Lansing Jobs Coalition’s plan is to partner with the City of
Lansing and a Native American Indian tribe in order to have city land
purchased by or transferred over to the tribe. The tribe would then be
permitted to construct a gaming facility … .”

Swope said if the coalition’s plan is to continue collecting signatures to measure support, it’ll have to change its methods.

“To turn this thing around, they need to do something
completely different. Where they’re collecting signatures is a place
where unregistered people tend to go,” he said, referring to the Ingham
County Human Services Complex, 5303 S. Cedar St.

O’Dell disagreed. He said the coalition’s biggest obstacle
in collecting signatures was the weather. The coalition also gathered
signatures outside of Lansing Lugnuts baseball games, outside the
Lansing Center during various events and at the Cristo Rey Fiesta
Celebration nearly two weeks ago, he said.

“The most discouraging part has been the weather,” O’Dell
said, citing spates of cold and rain since April. “It’s also hard to get
volunteers. Other than that, it’s been a fantastic experience.”