Weigh in. Submit a letter to the editor.
DANVILLE — Solicitations for proposals for a casino project in Danville’s Southgate Industrial Park area were scheduled to go out this morning to prospective operators throughout the country.
Developer Dave Cocagne said casino developers will be asked for information regarding 17 different criteria, including their experience, annual revenues, numbers of jobs their project would create and other amenities it would include — data needed to help a local steering committee decide with whom the city should partner.
While Danville will be competing with existing and new casinos — possibly one an hour away in Terre Haute, Ind. — Cocagne said Danville can capitalize on its rich history and unique assets by incorporating them into the project’s design, branding and marketing, and other attractions.
“We don’t want this to be an island,” Cocagne said, meaning it shouldn’t be just a casino.
“We want this to be an asset to the community,” said Cocagne, who envisions a project with restaurants, retail and other entertainment and attractions.
The city and Vermilion Advantage have partnered with Cocagne — president and CEO of Vermilion Development, which got its start in Danville in 1992 — who will help guide the city through the process of finding the right casino developer and submitting a license application to the Illinois Gaming Board by the deadline at October’s end.
At Tuesday’s city council meeting, he outlined the application process, the hefty financial investment the developer needs to make, the type of site they’re looking for and the “enormous” role the city plays, including signing off on a site and developer and passing a resolution or ordinance in support of a casino in the community.
“All of this has to be done before the application is submitted,” Cocagne said, adding that any project needs the city’s buy-in.
He commended Mayor Rickey Williams Jr. for acting quickly to put together a steering committee, which will use an evaluation matrix to review proposals, make a short list of and interview finalists and ultimately recommend a casino developer to the council for approval.
Besides Williams, the panel includes Vicki Haugen and Tinisha Shade-Spain of Vermilion Advantage; interim Police Chief Chris Yates; attorney and former Corporation Counsel Dave Wesner; Gardner Peck of Danville Metal Stamping; Jerry Connolly of Venture Mechanical; and Alderman Mike Puhr.
Williams and Haugen, president and CEO of Vermilion Advantage, recommend two adjoining parcels — one 40 acres, the other 32 — in Southgate as the potential site, and the steering committee endorsed the idea.
Haugen said she researched sites with at least 20 to 25 acres along Interstate 74 — a location seen as vital for visibility and accessibility — and based on other site requirements. While she looked at a number of options near all of the Danville interstate exits, she ruled most of them out because they were outside of the city or didn’t have the required acreage, room to expand, infrastructure or landowners willing to sell.
She and Cocagne said the two Southgate parcels — owned by heirs of the late businessman Lou Mervis — were the only ones that could be shovel-ready within the city’s short time frame.
A few people spoke in opposition to the proposed site, mainly because they want the city to consider sites north of the interstate they have an interest in. They included Joseph Earl, whose company has developed casinos in the Midwest and South and who has an option on just under 80 acres, and local attorney Ed Barney, who represents him.
But Haugen said that recently it was discovered that the sanitary sewer system north of the interstate is at capacity and couldn’t handle another user unless some type of project to take an exiting user off that line is done. That would take time the city doesn’t have, she said.