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Proposal aims to bring casino to downtown Grand Rapids

Statewide group is hoping to change the state constitution to allow for more casinos.
The current building at 221 Logan St SW

The current building at 221 Logan St SW /Jon Dunn

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If a group of investors across the state have their way Grand Rapids residents soon won't even have to get in the car to bet it all on black. A proposal to add a casino to the downtown area is moving ahead. 

A group calling themselves the Committee for More Michigan Jobs just received the go-ahead from the state Board of Canvassers and can now start collecting signatures. They're hoping to put their proposal to a vote of the people.

The proposal would add eight new casinos across the state, including one for the city of Grand Rapids. The proposed site here is a property at 221 Logan Street Southwest according to the group behind the effort. 

The Committee, made up of a group of investors across the state, is represented by Lambert Edwards & Associates. The public relations firm has Managing Director Emily Palsrok leading the charge as spokesperson.

"The gaming industry is doing very well in Michigan. If you look at proceeds from the tribal casinos and the three private properties in Detroit, it was a record setting year last year," said Palsrok. "From our perspective, there's room for more casinos." 

Currently the state constitution limits the number of casinos allowed, so the group is asking for an amendment to the state constitution to make this happen. The first step is the signature gathering phase. They'll need more then 322,000 signatures by July to get on the ballot. Palsrok says they hope to actually gather 400,000. She admits that this will take a Herculean effort and a lot of money. 

"We expect to be raising about $50 million dollars for the campaign. It will be a battle," she said.

Beyond the battle of gathering the signatures, they're also up against a group called Protect MI Vote. Primarily made up of the tribal casino operators and the operators of the three currently existing privately run casinos in Detroit, they too are expecting to begin with $50 million dollars to stop the proposal. According to spokesman James Nye this is a flawed proposal, mostly because of what he says is a shadowy group of unknown backers.

"Why isn't anybody involved with this stepping forward to identify themselves in terms of who owns the property in Grand Rapids? Who are the investors who are paying for this to move forward?" said Nye.  

The Committee for More Michigan Jobs has disclosed several names of people involved. Investors include Bob Meyer, a golf course owner in Cadillac; Andy McLemore, Jr., a developer in Detroit; and Lansing developer Sam Eyde. The Detroit Free Press created a graphic showing the investors in each area. Each area is handling this differently, with the Detroit group itself being a group within the group known as the Detroit Casino Partnership. Their investors include McLemore Jr., one of the members of the singing group The Four Tops, and a boxing promoter. 

Of the eight proposed towns for casinos, only two (including Grand Rapids) currently do not have a local investor on the ground. Palsrok said the committee selected the Grand Rapids location of Logan Street, and has an option on the site through the Limited Liability Company they've created. She said they are working now to find a local investor for Grand Rapids. The address of 221 Logan SW is currently the home of an exotic pet store located in the old warehouse that stretches between Grandville and Century. The building also houses several antique stores and other tenants. One of the current tenants was unaware of the effort. They did, however, express dismay at the thought of having to relocate after being in the location for 34 years. 

If enough valid signatures are certified and the issue makes it onto the ballot, the vote means two things. If the vote passes, then the constitution would be amended. But for each city, the vote would have to pass by majority for a casino to be allowed to move forward in the respective city. If statewide the vote passes, but it does not pass by a majority with Grand Rapids voters, a casino would not move forward here. Conversely, if it does pass by a majority of voters in Grand Rapids, and statewide, the casino would be allowed to move forward. 

Grand Rapids City Attorney Catherine Mish, was unaware of this effort and unable to comment on any approvals the Committee for More Michigan Jobs may have to go through from the city should this pass. 

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I agree with you Marilyn, but let's see how the public reacts once this story gets more attention. My hunch is that there are a lot of people in Michigan and GR who feel the same as you and I do!

And Jon, nice reporting! I always enjoy reading your articles.

Thanks, Scott! Hopefully more of them coming in the future. Focusing on city politics has got me all revved up with ideas :)

And as far as the casino goes, each side is touting a poll they had commissioned. One showed strong support, the other showed strong disapproval. So...we'll have to wait and see.