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  Chronicle's Chip Johnson Slams Pont Molate Casino
October 29, 2010

Richmond's Measure U doesn't measure up

Chip Johnson
Friday, October 29, 2010
Not even the Exotic Erotic Ball, one of the most famous Halloween parties in the world, was enough to draw enough Bay Area participants to Richmond.
After 31 years in San Francisco, the event was moved to Richmond's Craneway Pavilion, an old Ford auto plant that has been renovated into a stunning entertainment center.
But it didn't seem to help. The event was canceled Saturday. Promoters cited poor ticket sales and cost overruns.
That recent experience doesn't inspire a lot of confidence when it comes to a $1 billion casino resort project proposed for Point Molate, on the city's waterfront.
Nonetheless, Measure U, an advisory referendum on the project, will be on the ballot Tuesday in Richmond. The project still requires local and federal government approval to move forward.
The casino proposal from the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians has promised to generate up to $20 million extra to the local economy and provide 12,000 jobs in a city where the unemployment rate is more than 18 percent, nearly 50 percent more than the statewide average.
The project would include a Las Vegas-style casino with 4,000 slot machines and a 1,100-room hotel, a convention center, a ferry building and housing.
To sweeten the pot, developers struck a deal with a coalition of environmental groups last week to provide $43 million in open-space acquisitions, 180 acres of parkland adjacent to the casino and a Bay Trail extension. The agreement stems from a 2008 lawsuit brought by the group.
There is no doubt that a casino development would provide a new stream of revenue for the economically struggling city, but it's unlikely to spark the kinds of employment opportunities and economic stability the city needs.
The measure is opposed by a majority of the City Council, which has fallen back on old claims about traffic jams, crime associated with the casino, and the wages of sin for people bitten with the gambling bug. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has also come out against the project.
Those are all standard objections most often associated with casino proposals, yet those fears have not been borne out in California, where nearly 60 casinos have opened.
And building a $1 billion casino in the middle of a metropolitan area is a different equation than those in the rural areas miles and miles from a large city.
In the Bay Area, unlike Feather Falls Casino outside Oroville (Butte County), there is stiff competition for the entertainment dollar, and consumers want a wide array of choices and convenience.
Consumers want AT&T Park and - on a broader scale - Wrigleyville in Chicago - a contiguous line of neighborhood bars and restaurants within a stone's throw of the ballpark.
Richmond City Councilman Tom Butt said he dropped his support for the project when he learned of the developer's watered-down building plans.
"They told the city they would guarantee job opportunities, rehabilitate the historic district, build a performing arts center and dozens of retail stores," Butt said.
"Turns out they weren't going to do any of that."
Finally, a casino deal on the Richmond waterfront stands in contrast to the huge redevelopment efforts that have resulted in thousands of new housing units at Marina Bay on the south end of the city's old industrial waterfront.
Those changes have attracted at least 3,000 residents to the city and spawned retail growth.
Considering the direction the of city's development efforts in recent years, the idea of a new casino doesn't complement the city's waterfront redevelopment push.
Chip Johnson's column appears Tuesday and Friday. E-mail him at chjohnson@sfchronicle.com.