he Wyomissing-based company said in a news release last week that it has closed on the 18.3-acre tract at 560 W. Nationwide Blvd., plus six acres adjoining that property. The vacant industrial site, once home to Jaeger Machine Co., is owned by Plaza Properties Inc., a developer in Columbus. The purchase price was not disclosed.
Penn National had an option through January 30 to buy the property, which was specified as the casino site in a constitutional amendment approved by Ohio voters November 3. The amendment allows casinos to be developed at Nationwide Boulevard site as well as designated spots in Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo.
Penn National wanted to lock up the Arena District property, a source said, because there is no guarantee the Ohio legislature will agree to place another constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot to move the casino to another location. There also is no guarantee Ohio voters would approve such a ballot issue.
Those points were also made in the release issued by Penn. It said the company and its partner in the Ohio casinos venture, Rock Ventures, do not want to lose any time in fulfilling their commitment under State Issue 3 to invest more than $1 billion to build the Ohio casinos.
“The company is also sensitive to the tight timetable required to introduce new legislation to move the site, which would require a three-fifths vote of the legislature and a statewide vote in May,” Penn National Senior Vice President Eric Schippers said in the release.
He said Penn National hopes to be in a position to make an announcement on the outcome of its efforts to explore an alternative site within the next few days. “However, given the uncertainty of an outcome in the legislature or ultimately at the ballot box in May,” Schippers said, “Penn National intends to continue to plan for development on the Arena District site in parallel with our evaluation of potential alternative sites.”
The constitutional amendment stipulates Penn National spend at least us$ 250 million on the Columbus casino project. Company executives have said the investment in the project could come to us$ 300 million or more. They hope to open the Columbus casino in the second half of 2012.
Looking to work with business and community groups opposed to the casino being built in the Arena District, Penn National executives have said they are willing to listen to the call for an alternate location but only if it does not slow down the project.
Columbus Mayor Mike Coleman has asked Penn National to review four alternative casino sites: Westland Mall and the former Delphi Automotive Systems plant, both off West Broad Street; the Cooper Stadium property in the Franklinton area; and unspecified land in the vicinity of Interstate 71 and Polaris Parkway in southern Delaware County.
In addition, a community group on Columbus’ south side has been pitching locations near Scioto Downs off Route 23 for the casino. And the management company for the Continent mixed-use complex near the I-71 and Route 161 interchange on Columbus’ north side has offered to sell that property to the casino developer.
Should an acceptable alternate site be found, the state legislature is facing a Feb. 3 deadline to place a constitutional amendment on the May 4 statewide ballot.