The Westland Area Commission has added its support to the effort to bring a casino to the Westside.
At its Jan. 13 meeting, WAC cast a 7-6 vote with one abstention to support a Westside casino.
This vote put WAC with the Greater Hilltop Area Commission and Prairie Township trustees, who are supporting the movement to lure the casino to either the Westland Mall or former Delphi plant.
Only the Franklin Township trustees, in whose territory the two sites lie, voted against it.
The vote was the most divided one cast in recent years for the commission.
WAC, a liaison arm of the Columbus City Council, had moved its regular meeting up one week so it could weigh in on the issue.
About 25 people attended the hastily called meeting in the Westland High School Media Center to express their views.
“We will not state our position until we hear from the community,” WAC chair Mike McKay said.
After listening to their concerns for an hour, the commission members expressed their views with the vote.
The sentiment from the audience leaned toward bringing the casino to the area to breathe new life into a part of the city and county that has been losing businesses and jobs.
“A ten-dollar-an-hour job is better than being unemployed,? said Hardesty Heights resident Bill Alarie.
“We need an infusion of businesses,” said former Prairie Township trustee Joe Wharton, who lives in Lincoln Village North, less than a mile from Westland Mall.
He also touched upon social ills that a lot of people have expressed their concerns about.
“If you’re worried a casino would bring crime and prostitution, they are already here,” he said.
Westsider Skip Bowman read off a list of businesses that have left the area between Wilson Road and I-270 in recent years, and mentioned rumors the few big businesses left in the area may be leaving soon.
Penn National Gaming, which would build the casino after voters last November amended the constitution to allow the casinos in four areas of the state, plans to make a decision by Jan. 20 on a new location after city officials balked at putting it in the Arena District as the constitutional amendment specified.
Voters in Ohio would have to cast ballots to change the location. If voters are to have their say at the May 4 ballot, that language has to be in place by Feb. 3.
State Rep. Cheryl Grossman, a Republican from Grove City who represents the Westside, spoke about concerns of public safety forces that the Arena District location had limited access for fire apparatus.
Among those who do not want the casino was Mary Gibbons of Lincoln Village South, who fears a decline in property value, a rise in white-collar crime and jobs of no value.
“I’m concerned about the way the area is going and want to see a stop to it, she said. “A casino is not the answer. I don’t know what the answer is.”
Another opponent, Jo Ellen McKnight of Galloway, read a list of her concerns, including no guarantee that local people would get jobs, a declining property value and the rise in crime which would mean the need for more police officers. She wondered if the community could afford them.
“The area needs ideas for new business,” she said, suggesting the possibility of an outlet mall for the area.
Before the vote was taken, Greater Hilltop Area Commission president Chuck Patterson commended the audience on its behavior.
“This group was smaller and more subdued than the ones who attended the GHAC one,” he said.
That meeting a week earlier drew such a large crowd the meeting was moved from the Hilltop Library to Jerry Spears Funeral Home and became boisterous.
WAC member Linda Pitts moved for a vote on the issue, saying she had been in touch with communities and especially libraries where Penn National does business, and “it does not have a negative impact.”
She spoke of funds set aside in those communities to help agencies and local groups. She also spoke of pride in her neighborhood.
“A lot of business people care about the Westside,” she continued, and talked about seeing activities in other areas of Columbus. “I see them elsewhere. Why can’t we have them on the Westside?”
She gave praise to Penn National when she said “they are not asking for a tax abatement.”
Pitts also pointed out that the state would get 33 percent of the income with the city getting five percent of that amount.
“We want some of that money,” she said.
“I’ve talked with Mayor (Michael B.) Coleman and City Council President (Michael) Mentel about this,” Grossman said. “They’ve agreed to it and we’re going to hold them to it.”
Joining Pitts in voting for the proposal were Marian Hymer, who called it “our last chance,” Dorothy Jantzen who said “we need jobs,” Derek Dalton, Jim Kennedy, Jamie Mueller and vice chair Bill Steimer.
Mueller presented McKay with a box of petitions bearing 2,833 signatures of people who favor putting the casino on the Westside.
Voting against it were McKay, who said “I am not convinced it is an economic savior,” Shawn Thomas, who said he favored the Arena District, Patricia Brown, Doug Donovan, Ashley Hoye and Jo Ellen Locke.
Jan Collette, who works for the South-Western City Schools and which would benefit from the influx of tax dollars, abstained from voting.