|By Tina Alvey, The Register-Herald,
Beckley, W.Va.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 9, 2009 - WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS -- A jovial Gov. Joe Manchin signed Senate Bill 575 into law at the union hall here Friday to the enthusiastic applause of nearly 100 Greenbrier employees and others glad that the long struggle to allow gaming at the venerable resort is at an end.
Manchin noted the unions provided a large and persuasive troop of volunteers to convince Greenbrier County voters to OK casino gambling at The Greenbrier last year, while the county's legislators worked diligently on refining SB 575 to include the "unique feature" of setting aside a portion of each wager made in that future casino to help fund employee benefits.
"I saw you take ownership," a beaming Manchin told the assembled workers. "It doesn't happen that often that people take ownership of their government like that. It's because of you we have another day."
Manchin's reference was to the financial turmoil that has surrounded the posh resort, leading to its owner, CSX Corp., placing The Greenbrier into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March. Simultaneously with that filing, CSX signed a tentative agreement with Marriott Corp. to sell the troubled resort for up to $130 million.
On Thursday, however, a "white knight" in the person of coal and agriculture magnate Jim Justice announced he had put together a $22.7 million financial package through the Justice Family Group to purchase stock representing the resort and an 80 percent interest in the adjacent Sporting Club development. Justice said he also intends to ask U.S. Bankruptcy Court to dismiss all bankruptcy proceedings.
Marriott maintains its deal with CSX is still on the table, unaffected by this latest development.
Asked about the ownership controversy, the governor said, "It's been my experience, usually the person who writes the check owns the place."
Is Manchin taking sides in the Marriott/Justice dispute Unequivocally. He said, "I cannot tell you how excited I am to have a West Virginian step up to the plate this way. Jim Justice understands who we are and how to present us in the best light."
In expressing his thanks to Justice before the bill signing, Manchin characterized him as someone who "has the passion and desire to make this the marquee destination it should be once more."
Traditionally, copies of a newly signed bill are given to key citizens, and SB 575 was no exception. As Manchin handed a copy of the multi-page, bound document to Justice, he joked, "Jim, since you paid for it, I'm going to give you the first bill."
Justice was equally lighthearted in his response. "This was a pretty expensive book for me," he said to general laughter as he hoisted the bill.
Greenbrier County Delegate Ray Canterbury, the only local legislator to attend the ceremony, added his own wry comment after the cameras were turned off. "Who could have predicted this The hotel is now locally owned and operated," he said.
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