Those seeking an answer to where a casino facility should be built in Columbus did not find what they were looking for at the Jan. 5 meeting of the Greater Hilltop Area Commission.
So many residents turned out to voice their opinions on the matter that a last minute change of venue was made 15 minutes into the meeting.
Three hours after they had reconvened at Jerry Spears Funeral Home on West Broad Street, more than 70 spectators’ comments had split the crowd of 200 right down the middle.
Many residents and business owners fear the arrival of a casino will boost the already high crime levels of the area. Just as many locals assert the need for jobs and economic development make the Westside a clear choice.
“A casino is going to be built in Columbus. No matter how you voted. No matter what you want. The question now is where,” said GHAC chair Chuck Patterson as he opened the floor to public comment.
The meeting transformed to a sounding board for public opinion when it was announced the City of Columbus, along with Mayor Michael Coleman, have suggested casino developers scrap their plans for an Arena District facility and search out a new location.
Two of the four sites recommended by the city fall within the boundaries of the Westside - the former Delphi plant on Georgesville Road and Westland Mall on West Broad Street. The other two locations include the former Cooper Stadium in Franklinton and a piece of land near Polaris.
Residents speak out
“I don’t want that type of corruption anywhere near my neighborhood,” said the first speaker of the night, Mariana Burton, to a burst of applause from the crowd.
Several others were on the same side.
“Why all the sudden do they (the city) want to give us something they don’t want?” said Shawn Maddox.
George Dean echoed his thoughts. “We’re looking for the silver lining that might not be there,” he said.
Other residents felt the prospect represents a golden opportunity to return the Hilltop to its former glory.
“If we don’t get anything to happen soon, what’s going to happen to the Westside?” asked Rebecca Carter.
“What are we trying to save at Westland?” asked resident Betty Jaynes. “I don’t think we need another bingo hall. I don’t think we need another flea market.”
“I’m raising my children in this area and I 100 percent support the casino,” said Teri Carpenter.
Businesses weigh in
“You go down West Broad Street and you see all those empty store fronts,” said Judy Andrews, president of the Hilltop Business Association. “Those could be filled if there was some attraction to bring people here.”
“A casino preys on the weaknesses of people,” said Tim Lee, pastor at Hillcrest Baptist Church.
The owner of a new restaurant on the Hilltop was also against the casinos. “I’m not willing to risk the safety of my neighborhood to bring a few more dollars into my restaurant,” he said.
Several residents wanted to know what would happen to the businesses located in the mall if developers choose that site.
“That’s between the landlord and the tenants. We don’t have anything to do with that,” said Patterson.
Bringing the Hilltop together
No matter what side they were on, there was no question that everyone in attendance was passionate about their stance.
“In my head, what I wish everyone in this room would start doing is thinking that we deserve better,” said Jennie Keplar. “If we put half the effort that we put into tonight into lobbying for industry and lobbying for jobs, we could get what we want.”
“If we had as many people in Meijers as we’ve got in here right now, they’d still be open,” echoed Robert Spivey.
A narrow margin
When it came time for the commission to vote, each commissioner had a different approach. Some voted for what they felt would have the best affect on the area, while others tried to echo the general feeling of the audience.
“I firmly believe we have an opportunity to provide an economic boost for our community,” said commissioner Druelton Bagley.
“I think this is the best shot we’ve got and we’ve got to take it,” agreed commissioner Karen Whitman.
“I don’t think we have enough information,” said commissioner Sue Laughlin. “I’ve heard more ‘no’s’ than ‘yes’s’.”
Commissioners narrowly voted to approve a resolution to draft a letter in support of a Westside casino. The vote passed 7-6.
“If the vote didn’t go the way you wanted it to tonight, then go to the Web sites. Write your own letter,” said Patterson.
Information on how to support a casino on the Westside can be found at www.standupcolumbus.com.
Information for those opposing the casino can found at www.cfcolumbus.com.