DANVILLE — With the city’s extended deadline for casino development applications here, the count still stands at two.
City officials aren’t saying which companies submitted them, nor have they revealed whether one came from a group led by former Danville banker Craig Campbell, who has spoke at city council meetings and on social media about ideas for developing a casino in downtown Danville.
While some aldermen and local residents like the sound of a downtown casino, those leading the selection process disclosed in early July a preferred site close to the state line, south of the Lynch Drive exit along Interstate 74.
When city officials decided last week to extend the proposal deadline to today, Mayor Rickey Williams Jr. said they believed that the extra time might result in one or more additional applicants.
Since June 28, when Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed gambling-expansion legislation that created six new casino licenses in Illinois, Danville and five other municipalities have been scrambling to court developers, secure a site and negotiate deals in time to submit an application to the Illinois Gaming Board by its Oct. 28 deadline.
Casino operators must apply to the state board for the license and pay a nonrefundable $250,000 fee along with the application.
With such a short window, Danville officials originally asked for proposals by July 31, then pushed that deadline to today. Campbell had lobbied aldermen to extend it to early September.
But once proposals are submitted, the steering committee needs time to review them and ensure all requirements have been met, including securing the site and zoning approval, and the city must negotiate agreements with the chosen party, hold a public hearing and get council approval.
The steering committee said it recommended the I-74 site because it’s visible from the interstate, already within the city limits and enterprise zone, has access to utilities, is close to several hotels, and has one owner, Riverbend Development Inc., a corporation associated with the late Lou Mervis family, which owns Mervis Industries. Adam Mervis is the president of Riverbend and Michael Mervis is the secretary, according to the Illinois Secretary of State’s website.
Vermilion Advantage lists the 42-acre site at a price of $30,000 an acre, which would be $1,260,000 for the entire property. In the initial presentation to aldermen by developer Dave Cocagne— a former Mervis Industries employee — it was estimated that a casino site would need to be at least 20-25 acres.
Laura Maher, communications manager for Rockford — one of the other cities to get a casino license in the new legislation — said it has not yet received any proposals but expects to get some “just in time” for its Aug. 30 deadline.
Like Danville, debate has emerged in Rockford over possible sites — downtown along the city’s riverfront versus a property along the interstate. Also like Danville, Rockford is facing potential casino competition across the border — in Wisconsin in Rockford’s case. A Danville development could face competition from a future casino in Terre Haute, Ind.
In a letter to city officials and those reviewing development proposals, Campbell wrote that an investment group called The Hanlon Group, consisting of Dave Hanlon, whom he describes as a “casino expert”; real-estate developer Shawn Temple of P3 Advisors; and himself and his wife, Kim, submitted a letter of interest to develop a casino on July 10. He did not say whether he is investing his own money or what his role is in the group.
In 2009, Craig Campbell was president and CEO and Kim Campbell was vice president of First National Bank of Danville when that and five other Illinois banks controlled by the Campbell family failed and were closed by the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of Currency.
The Campbells filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2010. The bankruptcy ended in July 2016, according to federal records, and the $142 million in claims that weren’t paid included millions claimed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in connection with the banks’ failure.
In his letter to city officials about the casino proposal, Craig Campbell mentions that he and his wife ran First National from 1999 to 2009 but does not mention its failure.
He also describes a few sites in downtown Danville where the group would like to develop a casino, with the top of the list being nine acres the city owns between the David S. Palmer Arena and Memorial Bridge on Gilbert Street.
But nearly half of that property is in a floodplain and much of the rest is at a steep grade, dropping 50 feet from street level to the floodplain.
Campbell said they could build up two or three levels, and references ice at the arena, adding that they’ve “considered including a few sheets of ice and establishing the Old Vermilion Curling Club.”
The second option, he said, is buying the Old National Bank building across from the arena for additional parking and building a pedestrian bridge to it. That property is currently for sale, listed at a price of $4.5 million.
Their third option, Campbell said, is nearly 40 acres the city owns on the south side of the Vermilion River east of Gilbert Street. Roughly 20 acres of that property is also in the floodplain, and much of it is also at a steep grade.
Campbell again said the project could go vertical, and said the group is working with a “world-renowned architect that has historically been associated with many of the world’s tallest buildings,” but does not name the person and adds that they are not under contract yet.
The fourth option, he said, is to combine all these sites.
He said the advantage to city-owned land is making the city a partner so it could receive a cut of the revenue. And he touted using the downtown tax-increment-financing district, but the mayor emphasized that would mean the increase in property-tax revenue generated by the casino would then flow to the city and not other taxing bodies, including school districts and the county.