Mayor, City of Rockford staff back Hard Rock casino plan

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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — The City of Rockford staff has recommended that the City Council submit the casino by Hard Rock International to the Illinois Gaming Board.

Three casino plans were submitted to the City, from Hard Rock, Rock River West Casino Group, and Forest City Casino.

Below is a summary of the staff’s evaluation:

FOREST CITY: The Forest City proposals also has several attractive features. The plans include a hotel/casino, but also additional non-casino developments such as a water park, golf complex, entertainment venue, additional hotel and campgrounds. However, the proposal also has some very important weaknesses. Forest City has not provided evidence to confirm commitments for its equity financing. Its proposal also does not contemplate approximately $46 million of expenses associated with the casino. Given the lack of details regarding sources of debt and equity funding and incomplete data, there is a significant risk that financing for the casino/hotel project may be unavailable or insufficient at this time.
Although Forest City’s proposal is attractive and ambitious, Staff cannot recommend certification due to uncertainty related to a number of items, including commitments for the non-casino developments.

GORMAN AND COMPANY: The proposal submitted by Gorman & Company is the only proposal that includes a downtown development. Although it has attractive features, Staff cannot recommend the Gorman proposal at this time for a variety of reasons. Gorman has not secured a casino operator, has not provided a complete financing package; it has made no application for zoning; it must relocate an existing manufacturing business; and it has no experience developing a casino property. In addition, on September 27, Gorman submitted a nonbinding letter of intent by which an entity not affiliated with Gorman would consider assuming the role of applicant and operator. There is no sufficient basis for assessing the viability of this latest proposal and it’s financing, and therefore, we have been unable to engage in good faith negotiations. Unfortunately, the downtown proposal is not developed to the point where we feel confident the Illinois Gaming Board would issue a license at this location.

HARD ROCK: After review and consideration of all of the responses and weighing the totality of the strengths and weaknesses against the City’s objectives, City Staff recommends that City Council certify the Hard Rock proposal to the IGB. Hard Rock has the strongest and most complete proposal. Its financing structure is credible. The Hard Rock proposal includes realistic and sustainable minimum gambling tax guarantees, along with additional revenue sharing payments to offset impacts to the City. Hard Rock has agreed to a minimum payment of $7 million annually of gaming taxes to the City. Hard Rock also agreed to additional revenue sharing payments, a portion of which will be used to offset impacts to Police, Fire, and Mayor’s Office on Domestic Violence, and will also be applied toward economic development in disadvantaged areas of town, establishment of a philanthropic entity controlled by City Council, or other purposes as determined by the City. The Hard Rock proposal has the greatest guarantee for long-term benefits to the City of Rockford.

Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara said, “My responsibility as mayor, and that of our team and the City Council, was to select the proposal or proposals that had the BEST opportunity to provide the MOST benefits to Rockford.”

The Hard Rock plan would include:

  • 5 restaurants
  • Hard Rock Live! venue to feature local/internationally known artists
  • Rock Shop
  • Retail space
  • Rockford Park District Partnership: Hard Rock to provide $150,000 over 10 years for marketing and/or sponsorships, construct outdoor amphitheater at Levings Lake, music studio at Washington Park Community Center, and improvements to Sinnissippi Music Shell
  • Promise to help fund police/fire, Remedies (locally funded program for problem gambling), Rockford Promise, Rockford Family Peace Center, RAVE, RACVB, transportation
  • Establish Hard Rock 815 Community Foundation (distribute grants yearly to local charities/causes)
  • Phase 2: construction of hotel and parking garage

The City Council can recommend more than one casino proposal be submitted to the gaming board for a gambling license approval.

On Monday afternoon, Gorman & Company announced that they had completed negotiations with a casino operator in Las Vegas just last week, and the casino operator has flown to Rockford to address the Mayor and City Council Monday night.

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