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Thursday, May 25, 2017 12:07 am

Developer proposes downtown Springfield casino

Chris Stone posed earlier this year in front of the seven-story building he owns in downtown Springfield.
PHOTO BY DAVID HINE

 

A Springfield-based developer wants to reconfigure the downtown area by developing a casino.

Chris Stone, owner of EMS Midwest, Inc., recently proposed plans to members of the city council and Mayor James Langfelder to have a casino near the Old State Capitol. EMS Midwest, Inc., is a business governmental consulting agency with commercial properties in Illinois, Florida and Arizona. Stone’s proposal comes after the Senate passed a bill May 17 allowing the construction of six casinos across the state, but not including Springfield.

Additionally, Stone proposes demolishing the Stratton Building as a way to create a parking zone for public use. Legislators and state employees with offices there would be relocated to a renovated Illinois State Armory building at Second and Monroe. Finally, the ambitious proposal aims to create a regional sports complex, a six-story higher education facility, a movie theater, an open-air rooftop restaurant and other retailing properties to increase business and tourism.

“I started walking around Springfield and thought with all the issues we have, it’s amazing that we haven’t advocated for a casino in the downtown area in order to help with some of the downtown properties as well as the city at-large,” Stone said in an interview. “So I started looking at downtown and said to myself, ‘OK, you know what? A couple of these locations look like they’ll be good places, so let’s start getting the idea rolling.’”

According to Stone, the casino proposal could bring in $150 million to $175 million annually. He added that tax proceeds could be used to create and renovate buildings, support the Prairie Capital Convention Center (PCCC) and improve the city’s infrastructure. “What we would be doing is taking half of the gaming taxes that would come off of the adjusted gross revenue, and putting it back into the city,” Stone said.  

Stone intends to present his idea in the final days of the legislative session, saying that he has been working with legislators in the past few weeks. However, Stone is preparing for the long haul to lobby for his proposal. “It’s not so much an end-of-session deal. I look at it like this: if there’s a gaming bill that comes about and we can make changes to the city of Springfield, then that’s wonderful,” he said. “However, it’s not about one bill or one session, because if we don’t get a gaming bill this fiscal year, then we’re going to be pushing on this for as long as we can in order to try and get it done.”

Stone later said that the casino measure could benefit citizens in light of property taxes. “You got to remember that 40 percent of  the buildings in this city do not pay property taxes. This means 60 percent of the buildings in this town are supporting education, the PCCC and all the other areas that are dealing with property taxes,” he said. “We need to figure out a means by which we can suppress that trend so these residents don’t continually see their property taxes go up in order to fund what I consider to be the upgraded redevelopment of Springfield.”

Stone stated that he won’t contend with gaming expansion opponents who base their reservations on moral grounds. However, he argued that his idea is beneficial to the citizens of Springfield. “If you’re morally against gaming, I don’t know if I could make any argument that’s going to change your opinion,” he said. “If it’s not about morals, I would say to critics that we’re trying to come up with solutions that don’t increase your sales or property taxes. We’re trying to do something that doesn’t necessarily take away from residents’ incomes in order to be able to subsidize the transformation of Springfield.”  

Alex Camp is an editorial intern for Illinois Times. He is pursuing his master’s degree at University of Illinois Springfield. Contact him at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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