Thursday, February 14, 2013

$22.9M in casino-area infrastructure completed

On Tuesday morning, a ceremonial planting of juniper bushes in a newly-created plaza on Short Reading Road celebrated the completion of $22.9 million in infrastructure improvements around the new Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati, scheduled to open Mar. 4.

"Every now and then, in a city like Cincinnati, you get presented with a unique opportunity," said Mayor Mark Mallory. "That's what the casino coming to our city represents – a unique opportunity."

Developer Rock Ohio Caesars was responsible for $16.8 million of the work immediately surrounding the 23-acre site, including the widening and straightening of Reading Road; the installation of new traffic signals, sidewalks and curbs; undergrounding of utilities; new street trees, street lights and street furniture; and the construction of four new landscaped plazas.

The City's portion of the work, budgeted at $6.1 million and managed by the Department of Transportation and Engineering, included streetscape improvements, new street trees and street lights, new pedestrian lighting and wayfinding signage, spot curb and ramp repair, and changes to traffic flow.

The project's goal was to make more walkable what will soon be a major regional destination.

"Reading Road today compared to what it was just a handful of months ago is remarkable," said City Manager Milton Dohoney. "We're getting a lot of positive feedback from that. And so all of this is to make the overall experience that visitors to the area have to be very positive."

Funding for the project was made possible through a tax increment financing package, which allowed the City to issue bonds based upon a guaranteed valuation of the casino's future property taxes. To date, 49.1 percent of the project has been awarded to small business enterprises, and more than 20 percent has been awarded to both minority- and women-owned contractors.

Public input was solicited through a Casino Neighborhood Working Group, which has been meeting for over a year to ensure that the casino's spillover effects worked to integrate it into – rather than separate it from – the surrounding neighborhoods.

"It is very, very important to recognize that this casino investment is something that isn't just an investment in a building, it's an investment in a neighborhood, and in the entire community," said Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls.

According to Pendleton Neighborhood Council President Carrie Rathod, that investment is already working. She points to several planned or completed projects development projects, such as the 170 new apartments by Core Redevelopment in the old SCPA/Woodward building, 86 new apartments by the Model Group, and 13 new single-family homes by Chris Lacey of A & L Properties.

A recent Neighborhood Enhancement Program blitz has significantly decreased blight and crime, she said.

"I was one of the skeptics a couple of years ago, and now I'm here to say, on behalf of Pendleton, Over-the-Rhine, and the Central Business District, that I'm thrilled with the result of the partnership that has come about and helped transform the Pendleton neighborhood," Rathod said.

The $400 million, 354,000-square-foot Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati is being developed by Rock Ohio Caesars, a partnership between Rock Gaming LLC and Caesars Entertainment Corp.

Expected to employ nearly 1,700, the facility will feature 2,000 slot machines, 85 table games, and a 31-table World Series of Poker Room. Dining options will include Jack Binion's Steak, Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, Bobby's Burger Palace, Café Italia, and The Spread Buffet.

The Ohio Casino Control Commission approved a gambling license for the casino, contingent upon a Feb. 27 site visit by the panel during an invitation-only dress rehearsal.

At the meeting, commission members expressed concerns about the finances of Caesars Entertainment Corp., which is an estimated $22 billion in debt and could be facing bankruptcy.

Photos provided

Previous reading on BC:
Finalists chosen for Pendleton public art project (2/4/13)
Casino-area development controls extended 6 months (1/22/13)
Another change coming to Pendleton traffic flow (10/31/12)
Construction photos: Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati, 8/18/12 (8/24/12)
Qualls motion would establish casino area working group (4/26/12)