Tribe remains optimistic on casino

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Austin Montgomery/Beloit Daily News Ho-Chunk Nation officials met with community stakeholders for a networking event at the Stateline Family YMCA on Monday, drawing around 50 attendees. The tribe's casino plan remains pending in Washington, with tribe officials having visted most recently in March to check on the effort.

BELOIT - Ho-Chunk Nation officials say they are shrugging off a slowdown in the tribe's Beloit casino/resort plan timeline while optimism for the project's odds remains high.

At a networking event hosted Monday evening at the Stateline Family YMCA, Ho-Chunk President Wilfrid Cleveland said the tribe's latest meeting with Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) staff in Washington was well received.

"The plan's on their desk," Cleveland said. "It's moving through (BIA) and there are varying circumstances that have to be met."

Project officials had previously estimated aspects of the tribe's plan would be listed in the federal registry in the first quarter of this year, followed by a public hearing in late 2018.

Cleveland said the March meeting didn't reveal "any red flags," regarding its progress, noting the tribe was unsure of a timeline for the federal listing by BIA of the environmental impact statement (EIS).

"We hope it would progress but we have to focus on our work at home as (the plan) moves around," Cleveland said. "We don't view it as a delay. It's a slow moving process."

Public Relations Officer Collin Price reiterated Cleveland's position, noting the project's timeline was fluid, similar to a long-term construction project.

"We will continue to work to educate all involved as the process moves forward," Price said.

Price stressed the importance of the EIS draft being federally listed.

"It will really get us moving," he said.

Beloit City Council President Kevin Leavy, who has accompanied the Ho-Chunk delegation to Washington on past lobbying trips, said he would support heading out once again to lobby for the project.

"We're closer than we've ever been before," Leavy said. "We don't want to lose that momentum."

As previously reported by the Beloit Daily News, tribe officials unveiled the most detailed proposal yet in December, touting a $405.5 million casino/resort plan near Interstate 39/90 at Willowbrook and Colley roads.

If the project wins big, officials estimate the project could see 1,500 added jobs; a 300-room hotel; a 40,000 square-foot water park; and a 30,000 square-foot conference center/entertainment space.

A current intergovernmental agreement, recently re-approved by the Beloit City Council and Rock County Board of Supervisors, would see 2 percent of all net win proceeds to both entities, a total that could create $5 million in annual revenue, distributed between the city ($3.5 million) and county ($1.5 million).

Price confirmed Monday the most recent plan remained intact.

Officials stressed Monday the importance of Ho-Chunk re-establishing itself in the area regardless of the casino project's outcome. The tribe currently has no central reservation property in the state and relies on trust lands across 13 counties in Wisconsin with an estimated membership of 7,500.

If the plan nets federal approval it would head before whomever occupies the governor's office in Madison, likely after November elections.

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