|By Rick Alm, The Kansas City Star, Mo.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jul. 1, 2005 - Calling it "the last missing piece," Argosy General Manager Gary Johnson directed groundbreaking ceremonies Thursday for a 250-room hotel at the Riverside casino complex.
The $75 million project includes a 1,200-car parking garage to replace a smaller garage razed to make room for the nine-story hotel, which will have meeting rooms, a fitness center, a day spa, a piano bar and a private garden for special events.
Argosy's $105 million, Mediterranean-themed casino expansion opened 18 months ago. That doubled the size of its gaming floor and helped bump the riverboat's market share by about 8 percent.
With the hotel's luxury suites, plasma-screen televisions in every room plus casino restaurants and banquet facilities, "Argosy becomes a true tourist destination," Johnson said.
Argosy's groundbreaking came just 30 days ahead of the scheduled Aug. 1 opening of a 192-room hotel addition at Harrah's North Kansas City Casino and Hotel, which also is adding new restaurants and night clubs this year.
The groundbreaking also leaves the Isle of Capri Casino near downtown as Kansas City's lone gambling boat without lodging.
Calling Argosy "a community partner," Riverside Mayor Betty Burch praised the firm's $180 million capital investment, and said, "It means more job opportunities in our city ... we need the jobs."
The hotel, designed by Peckham Guyton Albers & Viets Inc., of Westwood, will be a sheer glass tower but with a skyline facade of Italian villas stretching across its entire length and carrying out the property's Mediterranean village theme.
"We tried to design a hotel that turns heads," said Paul Keller, Argosy's design and construction vice president. The nearly dozen false building fronts will stand two to four stories against the hotel's glass backdrop.
The general contractor for the hotel project is Walton Construction, of Kansas City.
The hotel is scheduled to open in early 2007. By then Argosy is expected to be part of the portfolio of Pennsylvania-based Penn National Gaming, which is acquiring Illinois-based Argosy Gaming Co. in a deal valued at $2.2 billion. The transaction is expected to close in the third quarter this year.
The combined operation would be the nation's third-largest gaming firm, with 13 casinos, racetracks and off-track wagering facilities.
Burch said Riverside hoped that Argosy's latest expansion plus a planned redesign of Interstate 635 exits within sight of the property would trigger a retail building boom in the area.
The city's master plan for the area is still a work in progress, but Burch said, "We're looking for a big box" to anchor a shopping area west of the casino.
Meanwhile, Johnson said Thursday that he was hoping to ignite city interest in an outdoor amphitheater or other live entertainment venue on property north of the casino and just west of a city park.
Argosy owns and operates a riverboat casino in its headquarters city of Alton, Ill., near St. Louis, plus casinos in Baton Rouge, La.; Sioux City, Iowa; Joliet, Ill.; and Lawrenceburg, Ind., near Cincinnati.
Penn National owns and operates gambling facilities in Aurora, Ill.; Baton Rouge; and Black Hawk, Colo.; the Charles Town Races & Slots in Charles Town, W.Va.; and casinos in the Mississippi communities of Tunica, Bay St. Louis and Biloxi. It operates Casino Rama, north of Toronto, and also owns six off-track wagering facilities; racetracks in Grantville, Penn., and Bangor, Maine; and a 50 percent interest in Freehold Raceway in New Jersey.
Penn is expected to sell Argosy's Baton Rouge casino.
Penn recently was an unsuccessful bidder to build a new casino complex in the St. Louis market.
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Copyright (c) 2005, The Kansas City Star, Mo.
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