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Toledo Plan Commission Approves Penn National's
Riverfront Casino Plan

Work on $250 million Facility Could Start in 30 Days

By Tom Troy, The Blade, Toledo, OhioMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

July 09, 2010--The developer of a planned Toledo casino got final major site-plan approval from the Toledo Plan Commission Thursday.

Eric Schippers, senior vice president of Penn National Gaming Inc. of Wyomissing, Pa., told the commission that the company hopes to begin moving earth on the East Toledo site within a month.

The $250 million facility is scheduled to open in early 2012 and could become the first casino in the state to be completed.

"We're very grateful to the plan commission for the unanimous decision, which is a giant step forward in terms of getting under way with construction. We will seek building permits with hope of breaking ground within 30 days," Mr. Schippers said.

The project is expected to create 2,000 construction jobs and about 1,200 permanent casino jobs.

The commission voted 5-0 to approve the site plan. Calvin Lawshe, secretary to the plan commission, said the commission is still expected to receive a detailed landscaping plan, but yesterday's vote was the final step for the site plan and it does not go to City Council.

A rendering shows a two-story, light-colored building with a lighted sign saying "Hollywood Casino." In response to a question from the commission, casino officials said it would be made of brick, stone, poured concrete, and stucco.

The main building will be two levels of between 218,000 and 227,000 square feet. There also will be a 5 1/2-deck parking garage.

The site, at 1968 Miami St., is adjacent to I-75 on the south bank of the Maumee River.

The city transportation division questioned whether the site should not have more parking spaces for tour buses.

Mr. Schippers said the plan is to start with three bus bays. The casino will encourage some charter bus business, he said, because its market radius is 90 miles to reclaim gambling revenue that has been going out of state.

"We are going to be reaching into Detroit; we are going to be trying to increase bus traffic," he said.

However, Mr. Lawshe said the facility is largely designed to cater to people in the immediate area.

He said if more than three bus bays are needed, the developers will have to discuss their requirements with the city's transportation engineers.

Among the speakers yesterday was Mayor Mike Bell, who urged the commission not to delay action on the casino project so the work could move forward.

Mr. Lawshe said Penn National and city and state engineering officials are working on designs for traffic signals, access to I-75, and an extra lane on Miami Street on the casino side of the road only.

The plan commission's approval hinged on 61 conditions, mostly relating to traffic signals, storm-water runoff, accessibility to emergency vehicles, and water and sewer service.

The company's site plan involves tearing up an existing $1 million road, a storm sewer line, and public bicycle path all paid for by the city of Toledo. Penn National has committed to reimburse the city up to $1.1 million for the cost of the improvements that will be abandoned.

Louie Bauer, former Rossford mayor who now lives in Perrysburg, spoke against the casino plan at the meeting. .

He raised a host of objections, saying the state should not allow Penn National to abandon the requirement for public access to the river and that the company should be required to comply with environmental monitoring of water runoff from the former industrial site. And he repeated his contention that it's the wrong location for a casino.

"I think with that the process has been circumvented quite a bit with not a lot of effort and care going into the overall plan," Mr. Bauer said.

Mr. Schippers said Penn National is ensuring that everything is done properly. "We have received a clean bill of health," Mr. Schippers said. "There are no issues there. We are going to make sure that this is a very successful site for us. It is certainly in our interest to make sure we address all the environmental issues, and we will."

Mr. Lawshe said Penn National is willing to build a bike path along the riverfront, but he said the path would be blocked at the west side by private property and on the east by the I-75 bridge because of federal homeland security regulations barring public access beneath the bridge.

Funding from a $2.9 million state grant and Toledo was used to clean up the parcel before it was selected as the casino site.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency approved the remediation in February, 2009, clearing the way for redevelopment.

Penn National bought the 44-acre site in December, one month after Ohio voters approved plans for four casinos, one each in Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati.

Contact Tom Troy at: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.

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To see more of The Blade, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.toledoblade.com.

Copyright (c) 2010, The Blade, Toledo, Ohio

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