Wichita’s Bob Knight pitches casinos for Marion County

The Free Press

Marion County voters will have the chance in about 10 weeks to decide in a mail-in referendum whether to allow casino gambling that could bring in a resort hotel and casino with $75 to $100 million annual payroll to the county.

Former Wichita Mayor Bob Knight, who supports the referendum, and his team told the Marion County Commission Monday that the $300 million development could have “dramatic consequences” for the local economy.

They estimated the construction phase of the 59-acre development with central 12-story 300-room hotel could alone generate $186 million in construction spending with 1,500 workers employed. The permanent work force would average 2,500 workers, said Dennis Smith, president of the Law Co. at Wichita.

Yet, Knight said, the development would require no tax money, no bond issues and no land give-away because investors would fund everything.

That and the rest of the presentation was welcome enough economic development news that Commission Chairman Bob Hein moved to pass the question on to a yes or no mail-in public referendum.

Commissioner Dan Holub made a second, and Commissioner Randy Dallke joined them to approve the referendum 3-0.

The approval put Marion County into an apparent race for casino approval with neighboring Harvey County, which Hein said has scheduled an election for the same purpose to be conducted in December.

Knight said that he needs a decision from a Kansas location to invite the casino by Jan. 1 to get required approval from the governor and the legislature. He would foresee building a 100,000-square-foot temporary facility on the grounds for the 2006 spring and summer season to gain income while the main facility is under construction.

Knight’s efforts to locate the resort and casino in Sedgwick County have met with resistance, so he is exploring nearby locations other than 60 acres that was considered at Park City.

County Clerk Carol Maggard said it takes time to prepare for an election and to get approval for the election plan and ballot from the Kansas secretary of state.

Knight, who took a humorous moment to shake hands with Maggard, said he has learned to always stay on the good side of county clerks, especially when he has helped burden them with an election.

The commissioners discussed that if the unusual election that could cost $15,000 makes Maggard’s elections budget run low, they might pull additional funding from another source, such as from money previously earmarked for a county economic director.

They will meet with the search committee for an economic director at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the courthouse to discuss where they are at on that project.

Knight spoke to commissioners and answered questions from a group of 16 onlookers while a TV camera ran from the commission room door. By the end of the session, Wichita news services were calling Hein for information.

Knight said he is a financial investor in the proposed resort/ casino along with the Iowa tribe of Kansas and Nebraska; an attorney from Washington, D.C., who grew up in Whitewater and worked for Sen. Bob Dole; The Law Co. of Wichita; Triplett, Woolf & Garretson LLC of Wichita and others.

He said this would be a “pristine” type of development carefully designed and landscaped as a get-away place for people in a 500-mile radius of Marion from Amarillo to Des Moines.

A 300-foot entry pylon lined with vegetation would meander its way to resort center with features such as waterfalls, fountains, a water park, child-care area, a 50,000 square-foot convention center, the 91,800-square-foot casino and other features. Smith said the architecture would blend Frank Lloyd Wright prairie-style elements into Southwestern styles.

The pay scale of people working there would range from $12 to $15 an hour with the possibility of that being doubled by gratuities, the two men predicted.

They said good highway connections would be pivotal to location selection with an estimate that 7,000 vehicles daily could come to the center. They assured the commissioners that super two highways share adequacy for the project with interstates.

Knight predicted that such a center will help any place it’s located with taxes and growth during a time when all governmental units are faced with “tough times.”

The commissioners also met with Donald Drickey and Joe Palic from the Kansas Department of Transportation in an effort to finalize how much aid the state will provide for Marion County to rebuild roads deteriorated by detour traffic during reconstruction of U.S. Highway 77.

Drickey offered $400,000 as a final settlement, but Hein-of the three commissioners-came up with the highest estimate of $525,000 as a settlement.

Holub said he was concerned that with continual rising prices to the county for fuel and oil for road projects that the prices suggested might not cover both gravel and resurfacing such paved roads as Sunflower. He said there were also such things as crushed culverts and destructive wear to a stone bridge at Marion County Lake to consider.

The final agreement appeared to be coming closer to $450,000, with Drickey suggesting that aid to the City of Marion for Third Street coming off Sunflower might be broken into a separate package to increase the willingness of the state to give added funding.

Marion City Commissioner Jim Crofoot, who attended the meeting, was reassured by Drickey that the city’s $38,000 to $40,000 portion of the reconstruction won’t be forgotten. Drickey said the aim of KDOT is to fairly reimburse counties for all county-road upkeep caused by added traffic during highway projects. He said the agency sometimes waits, as it did in this case, to see what routes the public will take because people frequently depart from suggested routes.

County Road Supervisor Jim Herzet said he has put so much gravel on roads during the U.S. Highway 77 project that with the suggested funding, “we will have to eat most of Sunflower.”

Pallic said the state “aimed to see that you not end up eating anything. We will find a way of reimbursing you.”

He noted that the donation of millings from the old highway surface to the county carries a high value, and the commissioners agreed.

Herzet said that elsewhere in the county his crew will be tearing up the north three miles of the Pilsen Road to resurface it while patching the southern end of it.

Roger Hannaford of Hannaford Abstract & Title Co. of Marion reported to commissioners that his company has certified titles of 35 properties for tax sale with one more property remaining where only mineral rights are involved.

He expected the last property to be done “in the next couple of days.”

Hannaford explained to commissioners that clearing titles can be a complex legal process with actions against property such as child-support payments, federal tax liens, divorce proceedings and judgements all to be considered.

Noxious Weed Supervisor Bill Smithhart met with commissioners for 10 minutes in executive session for personnel after which Hein announced that a grievance hearing for Smithhart will be held at 8 a.m., Oct. 31.

The commissioners approved conditional use permits presented by Planning and Zoning Director David Brazil for a recreational vehicle servicing shop north of Canada in the southeast quarter of section 29-19-3 and a 100-head cattle feed lot in the southeast quarter of section 18-18-4.

Hein announced that Hillsboro Mayor Delores Dalke has resigned as a member of the economic development task force, and a successor will need to be found.

In a final decision on mold clean-up bids in the courthouse, the commissioners accepted a bid of $34,584.84 from ACT over a bid of $40,531.57 from NCRI.

Maggard said a report from the county treasurer showed the county’s cash position as of Sept. 30 at $6,848,760 with $1,351,845 in the county general fund and $1,048,581 in road and bridge. Interest earned for the year was at $89,562.

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