From: Cincinnati Enquirer, Oct. 17, 2011

By Alexander Coolidge

LAWRENCEBURG - Hollywood Casino Lawrenceburg and the city of Lawrenceburg have struck a $50 million deal to build a downtown convention center and hotel complex, partly to compete with Cincinnati's casino, scheduled to open in spring 2013.

Plans for the 235,000-square-foot facility at the corner of Walnut and High streets in Lawrenceburg include a 180-room hotel, an 18,000-square-foot concert hall and exhibition space, a 7,500-square-foot ballroom and meeting space and a 150-seat restaurant and bar. The complex is expected to open in summer 2013.

Under the deal, the city will supervise construction and provide most of the upfront financing, including a $25 million grant, a $14 million loan and $10 million in tax-increment financing. The casino will kick in $1 million and assume both ownership and management of the complex upon completion of the project. The casino will also pay 4 percent interest on its 20-year loan from the city.

Lawrenceburg officials expect they will recoup $41.6 million of their $49 million investment through new tax revenue and repayment of the loan, create 100 new jobs and boost economic revival of their downtown.

"This helps revitalize downtown, which needs something to draw people and foot traffic," Mayor William Cunningham said. "The benefits to the city clearly warrant the financial contributions we're making to bring this project to fruition."

The new convention center will expand Southeast Indiana's event space, but its scale is smaller than regional rivals. For example, the new facility's ballroom will be half the size of the ballroom at an expanded Sharonville Convention Center, one-third the size of the ballroom at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center in Covington and one-fifth the size of the Duke Energy Center's larger ballroom in downtown Cincinnati.

Cunningham said Lawrenceburg hopes to attract meetings that have been venturing to Rising Star Casino Resort in Rising Sun or Belterra Casino Resort & Spa in Florence because of lack of space in his city.

Hollywood Casino officials said they welcomed larger entertainment and convention capacity as well as access to more hotel rooms to help compete against future competitor Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati at Broadway Commons. The new space here will be able to handle crowds of up to 1,600 for concerts and up to 1,000 seated for dinner events.

Three blocks from downtown, Hollywood Casino has one 300-room hotel that is routinely more than 90 percent full. Ironically, the entertainment-themed casino has limited space for larger concerts or other shows.

Joe Hasson, the casino's general manager, acknowledged that Hollywood's strength up until now has been the casino itself, while live entertainment options have been smaller-scale "lounge style" acts as well as the Boogie Nights nightclub. A concert hall broadens the casino's appeal.

"This becomes part of our offense and defense relative to the competition that's coming," he said.

While the Horseshoe in Cincinnati doesn't plan to construct a hotel, its 350,000-square-foot complex will include multi-purpose and special function space.

Cunningham said projections for the complex show it holding 1,000 events a year with multiple events a day. Those in turn will annually generate 40,000 nightly room rentals and 100,000 meal or drink orders, which in turn will generate millions in additional local tax dollars.

Cunningham noted that because Hollywood Casino will own the complex, it will generate more than $1 million a year in property taxes. The mayor also said the city's deal with Hollywood states the casino will assume all future operational costs. Cunningham noted similar deals for such a project would include the municipality having responsibilities to cover at least some cost of operations.

City officials have been exploring development of an event center since 2003. The city sought requests for proposals two years ago and signed a letter of intent with Hollywood in July.

Lawrenceburg officials will hold a ground-breaking ceremony today at 4:30 p.m. at the downtown construction site.