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St. Joseph Leaders Consider "Gambling" on Downtown

City Council approves "Memo of Understanding" opening up the idea of St. Joseph Frontier Casino looking into a move downtown.
(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) The St. Joseph City Council approved a Memo of Understanding Monday that gives the St. Joseph Frontier Casino permission to consider a relocation to downtown St. Joseph.

The vote was 7-2 to move forward. P.J. Kovac and Barbara LaBass voted against the measure.

For years, there has been a stigma when it comes to downtown redevelopment.

"All people talked about was negative downtown, said Rhabecca Boerkircher, Executive Director of the St. Joseph Downtown Partnership. "They said you ought to just implode it all in, put it in the river."

The Missouri River might play a part in the future of downtown, but in a more positive way. It might anchor a move of the St. Joseph Frontier Casino to the city center.

"To get the casino downtown and to get a new events center downtown will do nothing but help us continue with economic development because more businesses will move downtown," Boerkircher said.

The casino, a new events center, a new boutique hotel and renovations to the Holiday Inn are just some of the concepts in the plan.

"Grocery stores have also always been high on the list," said Clint Thompson, planning and development director for the city. "Housing, the event center concept but also attracting more people to downtown are important."

By law, no tax money can go into the construction of the casino. But other tax incentives would be available for some of the other development. The city approached the casino with the idea after flooding three years ago closed the casino for several months.

"It is something we can marry together the two concepts of the casino wanting to expand with a hotel component also a venue to market for their particular area to be a catalyst for downtown," Thompson said.

But some who support downtown redevelopment don't like the idea of the casino being included.

"To me, the culture of casinos is a decadent culture of addiction," said Isobel McGowan, who lives just north of downtown. "Alcohol addictions, tobacco addictions and gambling addictions I think all have immense impact on our community."

In the end, some say this is the best plan in decades for a step forward for downtown.

"You're going to see more traffic on the streets. You're going to see more people walking on the streets," Boerkircher said.

"You have to have a vital downtown to have a vital community. Even big box stores that come in, they won't be located downtown, but they want to see a community that has pride in itself."


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