|By Fred Mann, The Wichita Eagle,
Kan.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Apr. 10, 2010--Sumner County has been jilted at the last minute for the second time by developers who spent months courting it for a casino.
Partners in the proposed Chisholm Creek Casino Resort on Friday withdrew their plans to build and manage a casino near Mulvane's turnpike exit. They asked the state to return their $25 million application fee.
Seventeen months ago, Harrah's Entertainment bailed on plans to put a casino at the same exit after winning the right to build it, citing the eroding economy.
A third round of bidding is expected to open soon, and officials expressed optimism that the county would attract qualified bidders. The Kansas Lottery, which will own the casino, anticipates asking its board to restart the process when it meets April 23.
Chisholm Creek, the only applicant for Sumner County, had planned a $225 million casino resort starting with a $150 million first phase.
It pulled out the day after Gov. Mark Parkinson denied its request for what would have been the fourth delay in its application process.
Parkinson said Friday that he was disappointed Chisholm Creek backed out, but that it was helpful to have the issue resolved.
"Now that we know the $25 million application fee will not be available in the current budget year, the Legislature has the opportunity to address this new shortfall when it returns at the end of the month," he said in a release.
"We have a tremendous opportunity to build a destination attraction in South Central Kansas and we look forward to finding a partner who shares our vision of creating jobs, generating revenue and increasing tourism to Kansas."
Optimistic about future
The Lottery is optimistic that new bidders will emerge.
"Experts have said the south-central zone is one of the primary areas of casino development in the entire country," said Sally Lunsford, the Lottery's communications director. "We're confident we'll get qualified bidders in the future."
That opinion came from William Eadington, a gambling expert from the University of Nevada-Reno who has been serving as a consultant to the state's casino review board.
But Eadington also wrote in a report for a board meeting Tuesday that if Chisholm Creek wasn't approved, another bidder might not come along for the south-central zone for at least 12 to 14 months, if ever, because of the economy and the contentiousness of casino politics in Kansas.
He wrote that if the Wyandotte Tribe of Oklahoma is authorized to build a casino in Park City, it could get a jump on Sumner County's casino and erode its economic potential.
But Eadington also said both casinos could succeed in a market with half a million people.
Janice Hellard, Sumner County's economic development director, said she's already started digging through her lists of former applicants from the two previous rounds.
"I have heard rumors already that there are some looking at putting in a proposal," she said. "We'll have to see who comes in through the door. We are definitely welcoming them and are open for business again.
"We'll get there eventually," Hellard said. "We're certainly going to do our best to attract new people into the process."
Jack Potucek, Sumner County counselor, said the county commissioners were disappointed that Chisholm Creek won't go forward, but understood the predicament Parkinson and the state had been in.
Potucek said they also were disappointed with Tuesday's review board meeting in Topeka, where the developers threatened to abandon the project if the board voted to approve it that day as scheduled.
Chisholm Creek partners included Lakes Entertainment of Minnesota, which would have built and managed the facility; Och-Ziff Real Estate of New York, which would have put up 50 percent of the investment, and Clairvest of Canada, which would have added 33 percent.
Chisholm Creek asked the board to put off a vote because of concerns about potential changes in state legislation that might give Wichita Greyhound Park another chance to have slot machines.
It also cited confusion over zoning and platting issues created by a recent Kansas Court of Appeals ruling that Mulvane's annexation of the site was legal.
The board reluctantly asked Parkinson for a 60-day extension, but he denied it, saying that the zoning issues had been resolved Monday when the county commissioners approved Chisholm Creek's plans for the site, and that the Legislature could change the gambling law each year.
Parkinson also said he already had granted two 60-day extensions during Chisholm Creek's application process.
The board had granted another delay in December so Chisholm Creek could renegotiate its contract with the state to protect itself from potential competition from a Park City casino. Those negotiations lasted about two months.
Mulvane City Administrator Kent Hixson said the city will take the new setback in stride.
"It does surprise me that this thing has not taken off yet," Hixson said. "Are we disappointed? Oh, sure. But nobody's crying the blues."
Reach Fred Mann at 316-268-6310 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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