By Kim Norvell – St. Joseph News-Press
After more than a year of research, an outside company has come up with a $64 million plan that would develop Downtown by moving the casino and building a state-of-the art event center.
The company, Hunden Strategic Partners, came up with five different scenarios and plans that could feasibly be done in St. Joseph, but has suggested one that would use less public funds and would keep Civic Arena intact.
A presentation of the study’s results and alternative scenarios will be given to the City Council at a public work session at 4:15 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall, 1100 Frederick Ave.
Objectives of the main proposal include development of a new casino Downtown, renovation of the Holiday Inn, development of restaurants along Felix Street, improvements to Civic Arena, development of a 550-space parking garage and development of a casino-run event center.
The proposed project would cost $64.2 million — $12.5 million of which would come from public funds; the rest would be paid for by the casino. Funding from the city’s portion would come from a Downtown TIF, Downtown CID and the hotel/motel tax, all of which already have been approved by the council or voters.
As part of the suggested plan, the casino would purchase and rehabilitate the Holiday Inn ($7.4 million); build a larger casino, complete with 150 hotel rooms, a spa and a large meeting facility ($19.8 million); build and manage an entertainment center that would be large enough to attract sporting events and concerts ($16.2 million); and develop an “entertainment district” with diverse restaurants and bars ($8.2 million).
The casino would be located north of the Holiday Inn, in its existing parking lot; the event center would bridge Third Street, closing the street, and connect east to Civic Arena.
The city then would be responsible for building a 550-space parking garage adjacent to the casino ($7.5 million); and providing upgrades to Civic Arena ($5 million).
Upgrades to the arena would make it ADA accessible and incorporate additional bathrooms and concessions. The upgrades would not be enough to make it a state-of-the-art entertainment center, but could draw arena events and conventions.
The plan also includes suggestions for what to do with the old casino space on Waterworks Road, if it were to move Downtown. Multiple plans suggested anything from baseball fields to a marina to a restaurant.
The City Council approved a contract with Hunden Strategic Partners in July 2011 to conduct “a development plan on the location, cost and estimated revenue from an event center, casino and Downtown hotel,” said Clint Thompson, director of Planning & Community Development, in a memo to city staff. One of the catalysts of the study was the 2011 flood, which shuttered the St. Jo Frontier Casino for three months.
Originally it was thought that a larger project would be completed in the area, which would include tearing down Civic Arena and adding even more hotel rooms. However, funding for the larger project scenario would be too great, even with assistance from the state.
The full study can be accessed on the city’s website at www.stjoemo.info/study.