March 18 2013 12:00 AM

Unveiling the next phase of entertainment development in Lansing: A downtown casino

Courtesy illustration

Monday, Jan. 23 — Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero will unveil plans this morning for a tribal casino in downtown Lansing, a major economic development project meant to create jobs, fund the Lansing Promise education fund and turn the city’s convention center from a “loss leader” to “profit center,” he said.

The announcement will detail plans between the city and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians for a casino to be built around the Lansing Center to the north and east, Bernero said. The announcement comes after months of speculation about whether the city could legally bring a casino downtown. Though Bernero admits it is not a guarantee, he is confident the city and tribe have a sound legal argument to make it happen.

“There are big doings in Lansing and this is one of the biggest in our history,” Bernero said Sunday. He said a casino would “augment the entertainment district” and is the “final piece that really sets us up for tremendous success.”

The announcement is scheduled for 11 a.m. today at the River Street Pub inside the Lansing Center.

Bernero said “not one dime of city money is going into a casino.” He predicted that, if anything, more revenue will be generated for the city. He also said that the proposed agreement involves the tribe paying a percentage of its profits to the city for police and fire services.

Bernero called the potential benefits of a downtown casino a “three-fer” for creating jobs; funding education; and fixing a budget deficit.

On the first piece, Bernero said the potential project would create 1,500 permanent jobs and about a $400 million economic impact on the city. He also said the project would create 700 construction jobs.
“That’s number one. It’s good economic news. Good paying jobs with benefits with preference for Lansing-based residents.”

The second benefit, which Bernero credits his wife Teri for, is that the project would generate $5 million to $6 million annually to fund the Lansing Promise scholarship. Modeled after the Kalamazoo Promise, the program provides four-year scholarships to students who graduate from high school in Lansing. Bernero said Lansing Promise is in its “infancy” with “no new revenue source.”

“It will lead to the revitalization of Lansing schools. If Kalamazoo is any testament, this will begin the turnaround of Lansing schools,” Bernero said in a phone interview Sunday.

The third benefit Bernero suggested is that the casino will make the Lansing Center profitable. City Pulse reported two weeks ago that Bernero wants to explore new ways to fund the Lansing Entertainment and Public Facilities Authority, which manages the convention center, Cooley Law School Stadium and the City Market. The city subsidizes all of these operations from its general fund, with the convention center costing about $800,000 a year. Bernero believes a casino would create more demand for using the Lansing center.

The proposed project would include some parking on site, but Bernero said parking is “not all worked out yet. There’s gonna be a need for a lot more parking.” When asked if any new hotels will be built as part of it, Bernero said there are “certainly” opportunities for a hotel, “I think private entrepreneurship will come up and handle that.”

Bernero said it’s all speculation at this point and the announcement is a way to get the project going in earnest.

“It will take a while to come to fruition,” he said. “There is already a beehive of activity. We know it’s going to be a long slog, but we know its’ worth it. We see a viable path to a casino in Lansing. … We think Lansing’s time has come.”