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Debate continues over downtown casino

Related article: Casino prospers in old Sears building
By ALEX DE MARCO
DCN Correspondent

The addition of a 24-hour casino to any downtown community is enough to worry local business owners and residents. In 1985 when the Band of Lake Superior Chippewa bought what used to be the downtown Duluth Sears and Roebuck Company department store, (see Casino Prospers in Old Sears Building), questions of its effect on family values and local businesses, as well as the city of Duluth's budget, began to arise.

For 23 years, the Fond Du Luth Casino has sat at 129 East Superior Street in downtown Duluth, but even to this day the city’s residents are unsure if a casino is the proper way of revitalizing the downtown area of a small town.

Downtown Duluth business owner Jim Carlson has expressed his concern for some of the types of people who are attracted to the casino.

“We've had quite a bit of pan-handling going on up the street from it. And all the drunks that come out of it (at night) are all over the streets. It’s become a real problem,? said Carlson.

Carlson, the owner of The Last Place on Earth across the street form the Fond Du Luth Casino, also feels that some of the casino employees inadvertently take away some business from other downtown establishments.

“The night crew will come in and park at the meters in front of my store instead of the ramp because they stop enforcing them about the time they come in. It makes people not want to come in if they have to park a ways down the street,? said Carlson.

However, not everyone shares the same views on the effects of the casino as Carlson. The president of the Greater Downtown Council, Kristi Stokes, feels that the casino is only promoting the area.

“From our standpoint, the Casino has had a great impact on the downtown area. They draw in people and have been tremendous partners in promoting events like the Rock the Block summer concert,? said Stokes.

Even though it may be impossible to conclude whether or not the casino is an overall burden or benefit to the downtown area, the agreement between The Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and the city of Duluth to share the casino's revenue undeniably plays a large role in the debate.

“Last year, about $6.4 million in casino revenue went toward building up the $56 million in the city’s Community Investment Trust Fund,? wrote Brandon Stahl of the Duluth News Tribune on Sept. 12th, 2008.

“It has been a strong community partner who is helping to bring up our vibrant neighborhood,? said Stokes.

Re-negotiations between the city and the Fond Du Luth Casino are able to take place as soon as late next year.

“I believe the agreement with the city is up for re-negotiation (around) 2010 and I hope it goes through,? said Stokes, who is unsure of the negative aspects to the casino. “We have made great strides in this community and the casino has been an important part of that.?