Tuesday, March 14, 2006
By R.J. VILLELLA
Massillon City Council got its first look at an agreement between the city and the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma that would ensure the city a place on the short list for a casino.
Steve DiPietro, one of owners of the Republic site and a partner in the Ohio Reservation Development Corp., and business representatives for the Eastern Shawnee Tribe made the presentation to council at Monday’s work session.
He told council the agreement is needed as a letter of intent and as a place holder, and there will be plenty of time for the city to pull out should the citizens say they don’t want a casino.
“The tribe will not build a resort casino where one is not wanted,” DiPietro said. “They don’t need to force a project like this on anyone. There are too many places that want a casino.”
Massillon would join a short list of cities – Lordstown, Monroe and Botkins – which already have agreements with the Shawnee.
An intergovernmental agreement between the tribe and council is needed by the end of March, DiPietro said, because of a pending lawsuit in federal court.
The lawsuit, filed by the Shawnee last June, lays claim to 145 square miles of former reservation lands in the northwestern part of the state and 11,315 square miles of former hunting and fishing ground in the southwestern part of the state.
Gov. Bob Taft, several state officials, representing the natural resources, transportation and taxation departments, and 36 boards of county commissioners are among those named in the lawsuit.
“This was the original home of the Shawnee,” said Ray Williams, DiPietro’s partner in the Ohio Reservation Development Corporation. “They were given reservation land in Ohio by Congress, and it was taken away from them at gunpoint. Only an act of Congress can take that land away.”
DiPietro said an agreement is needed now because the federal judge in the case has asked the parties involved to submit settlement agreements. The agreement between the Shawnee and Massillon would be part of that settlement agreement.
The lawsuit is scheduled to be heard this spring, and the judge has asked to see the settlement agreements before then.
“We’re working on the judge’s timetable,” DiPietro told council.
There would be several steps needed after a settlement agreement is reached, Williams and DiPietro said, including a review by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs and the National Indian Gaming Commission.
The agreement states Massillon would get 2 percent of the revenue from 2,400 slot machines.
“That could mean $12 to $14 million a year,” DiPietro said.
But all that money wouldn’t go into city coffers. Some would have to be allocated to the school district, the county and other organizations like MRDD and the arts, DiPietro said.
There also would be two mitigation payments each year for items such as a infrastructure expenses, road and utility connections and or other expenses such as added police or fire personnel.
“The tribe also would collect any income taxes on people who work at the casino,” DiPietro said.
He estimated 1,800 to 2,400 jobs with the lowest wage starting at $7 an hour with full benefits.
The resort would be built in three phases, with the casino and food services first, hotels second and entertainment last.
The resort will probably include retail shops, a conference center, and an indoor-outdoor water park, DiPietro said.
Possible themes could include football and the Ohio and Erie Canalway, he told council.
“The canal(way) is vastly under utilized,” he said. “It should be a showpiece for the city and a boon to the city, the county and the region.
“This is an exciting project and an incredible opportunity. There’s no reason top-flight entertainment can’t come here instead of going to Cleveland.”