Is A Downtown Mpls. Casino Worth Betting On?

By Bill Hudson, WCCO-TV and Lindsey Seavert, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For more than 30 years, efforts to bring vitality and safety to downtown Minneapolis have struggled over Block E. The entertainment district has been revamped, redesigned and renewed, but it is still falling short of attracting steady crowds of customers.

However, plans unveiled in a slick news conference on Wednesday aim to change the outlook.

“This is sort of the promise of excitement,” said Phillip Jaffee.

Jaffee is one of the partners in Alatus LLC, the developer who purchased the failed complex in July 2010 at a deep discount. What he and his partner, Robert Lux, are excited about is their plan for an upscale state-run casino, known as “Minnesota Live.”

Jaffee and Lux have been working behind the scenes with downtown business interests and lawmakers to research, develop and sell the plan to transform this part of downtown. At the news conference, the group unveiled artist’s drawings of the glass tower, which would house several floors of video slot machines, bars, restaurants and retail.

Market research by the developers show their plan is capable of attracting huge crowds of affluent customers, who now shy away from spending much time downtown.

“We want this to be the engine that fills the Orpheum, the Pantages and other theaters. We want hotels full and restaurants active,” Jaffee said.

“What makes projects in an urban setting successful are people. It all starts with people and what we really need is safety,” added Lux.

Studies project the casino complex could attract 5.6 million visitors each year. And the attraction of state-run video gambling could generate upwards of $125 million in additional state revenue. That doesn’t include the economic impact from a projected 2,400 to 2,800 permanent jobs.

“A lot of these jobs just transfer from one place to another,” said John McCarthy, who is executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association.

McCarthy calls the plan a “slippery slope,” which will only expand gambling and requires expensive state regulation.

“The other concern we have is if you say yes now, you can’t say no to Bloomington, St. Cloud or every other city in the state,” he said.

History shows many plans have come and gone around Block E. The turn of the century vitality slowly disappeared until two decades ago, the city demolished what was left into a parking lot in the late 1980s.

Then, when crime took center stage, the famed Shubert Theatre moved out. That’s when the current shops moved in, but many say the problem is that they could be found in any suburb.

“They tried to make it the Mall of American downtown and people just go out to the mall instead coming downtown to city where you pay for parking and everything,” said downtown resident Jim McCann, who said he would frequent a new downtown casino.

When it comes to a new casino plan, the nearby Fogo de Chao restaurant says only crowds will provide a jackpot.

“Hotels will be a busier, stadiums will be fuller, restaurants will have more business. I can’t imagine it being bad for the city,” said customer services manager Matt Roth.

Some worry about just that.

Joe Elliot, who takes college classes downtown, says he is unsure if a casino will bring a new chapter of change.

“A lot of young people my age don’t think right. They got their mind on the wrong things, with the casino being here, more drinking, it’s going to be bad,” said Elliot.

The Alatus developers argue just the opposite, saying their studies have shown that bringing more people downtown helps create a safer environment.

The bill to give the project the go-ahead will be introduced in the legislature on Thursday. If lawmakers give it the green light, renovation could begin right away with a goal of completion in 2013.

More from Bill Hudson
  • Al

    Here is my bet: the Twins get swept in Boston, and the GOP gets swept in the 2012 elections.

    • Fred

      I have to poop

      • JB

        appears al just did poop

  • JKB

    I wonder how many will actually have the money to go gambling with the economy as it is. Then too, crime in the area will increase, just what you need just by reading the local papers and reported on the evening news. It seems like Mpls law enforcement has enough to contend with, without asking for more.

  • Jake

    If you want to put the final nail in the coffin on Hennepin Ave., then PLEASE open up this casino. As bad as it is, it will only get worse, since rybak and the cops and the judges refuse to effectively deal with the scumbags who continually victimize those who might visit that area.

  • Bob

    We need a Racino first then next year let’s get this to pass. The tribes have fleeced the tax payers of this state for along time! Please let the politicians know we all support alternative gambling!!!!!!!!!!!! The tax payers are being robbed!!!

    • cookie

      Bob….your ignorance is surprisingy benign. The Tribes haven’t “fleeced” anyone for the simple fact that taxes are being collected at the rates that the federal govenment has set- as negotioations for the treaties signed. So if you feel “robbed”, then you shold talk to all your friends in the federal government, and/or give your land back.

  • Bob

    Cookie,I am not sure you understand economics. The tax payers of this state spend money at the tribes casinos. For every dollar spent the tax payers should get 6.5 percent! We get nothing you ignorant fool. With a Racino we would get 6.5 percent! Please go back to school and look up economics…

    • 4Racino

      Dont forget all the state and fedral grant money they get from us too. I know every year one tribe gets 200,000 dollars in public saftey money even if they dont need it

  • zee the reporter

    so cool for downtown! why not! zee reporting!

  • captainobvious

    You hear that sound? Its the natives getting restless, you better line some political pockets indians or this is a done deal, cmon you’ve been doing it for years, don’t fall asleep now

  • Bob

    Let’s take it a step further. This is obvious racism. Due to the fact I am African American I can’t own a casino! If I was a native American I could? The time is now taxpayers!

  • Iconoclast

    Developers just don’t get it. You can’t make a “district”. Block E is a mall with no character. Is it any wonder it failed. Break the site up and let it develop organically. And the last thing we need downtown is a casino. It will only attract sad addicts and a rough crowd of wanna be rollers. The planners and redevelopment agencies need to use some imagination and not do the same thing over and over. This type of project has been outdated for decades.

    • stillobvious

      Um when have we tried this before, you say lets not try this over and over. Sad addicts can go anywhere, Theres only 1 group of people that fear, you better start doing some greasing indians the clock is ticking, politican 1 thru 100 needs a new pair of shoes

      • NS

        man sounds like your racist against indians

  • Al

    Let’s not lose sight of what is truly important, millionaires need more monry.

  • NS

    if a racino opens up or a casino in downtown mpls….ima open a pawn shop….and get all the money from the poor people thinking there gonna win….its just gonna create another problem for lower income if a racino or a casino opens up

    • stillobvious

      you ever left the house b4 theres pawn sops everywhere already

  • good idea

    sure why not, i hate driving all the way to mystic or any other that pretty far. one in the city is good because people will be broke hahaha

  • Outhere

    I’m outta here. Too much insanity in St Paul, is it contageous? Socialist democrats, the source of money that you steal is gone.

  • Jinx

    I believe that this is only going to make issues downtown more crazy. Sorry news flash adding gambling to the mix of alcohol and a younger crowd downtown is going to have more sexual asphalt and chaos…sorry but some people just don’t get it…things are going to get way out of hand. And just a added note natives that are apart of a “Casio” do get what they get and as many kids as they have they will pay for them…no welfare…and no interest in seeing their kids…but they pay for them….bonus for welfare.

    • captainobvious

      sexual asphalt? asphalt is tar. where do u people go downtown theres little violence

      • Jinx

        I mean assault…if that all you got to say to me…a misspelled word…

    • captainobvious

      casio is a watch, i hope your drunk you make little sense

  • Jinx

    Whatever…Casino…I guess voicing an opinion and misspelled words is a crime….get real and I don’t agree with a Casino downtown….

    • captainobvious

      Normally i’d never mention a mispelled word, but seriously asphalt? I think the point I was making was people with limited I.Q. shouldn’t even post opinions on here, I don’t think you know whats best for anyone including yourself

  • Terrance Opine

    Put the gambling in Loring Park.

    • Cheif Running Mouth

      It is a gamble if you bend over in loring park.

      • Hmm


  • JB

    Back to the topic, Let me see, you can go to mystic lake and drive your car and lose your money to a group that pays almsot no taxes, or you can take mass transit and get to a casino that the majority of the profits go to the state, to help fund all the wonderful things we have. hmm, tough choice….

  • Hmm

    It’s already turning into a pit with the shady nightclubs. May as well add a casino and a few brothels to get more tax dollars into the state.

  • John Sherman

    tax the rich is not a solution,interesting that the state of minnesota has a population that has always gambled{ ie in shokopee in the inn there way back} tp tje [resemt day regarless of the economic gonditions gee look at the payments the native americans get as there share maybe thats why they don’t want competition if this brings in the toulrist dollars sp what the locals will come too.

  • L

    let it go for a vote with the people, let the people speak. i am not a gambler but for those who wish to do so let them and ease our money burdeons of the state of mn.

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