BELOIT - Ho-Chunk Nation leaders believe efforts to bring a casino and resort development to Beloit have found renewed support at the local and federal levels.
City and tribal officials met Thursday at Nature at the Confluence in South Beloit to provide updates on the long-awaited project. Ho-Chunk officials have been working for years on the plan. The tribe's application was sent to federal officials for review in 2016.
The proposed $405.5 million project has progressed this year, with the plan to be reviewed at the federal level in the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in 2018. If approved it will head to Madison for final review.
Odds are the final decision won't come until 2019 and construction could start as early as 2020. Ho-Chunk President Wilfrid Cleveland said officials in President Donald Trump's administration have been "more aggressive" than past administrations in ushering the plan towards its final review.
"We've had great feedback from the White House on this," Cleveland said.
If the project finds its ace in the hole, tribal officials say Beloit could see 1,500 added jobs; a 300-room hotel; and 2,200 slots along with 50 table games in the casino. The massive project also would include a 40,000-square-foot water park and 30,000-square-foot conference center/entertainment space.
The impact on Beloit and Rock County would be substantial, officials said, noting an intergovernmental agreement in place calls for the casino to provide 2 percent of all net win proceeds to both entities, a sum that could create $5 million in revenue, divided with the city receiving $3.5 million and county $1.5 million in annual revenue.
Cleveland said meetings between Ho-Chunk, City of Beloit and federal authorities in Washington held earlier in July and November were good indicators that the project had finally regained momentum.
The Ho-Chunk president said there is no opposition by Wisconsin tribes, specifically Forest County Potawatomi, a factor he believes is significant for the plan's path forward.
Cleveland said Potawatomi leaders told Ho-Chunk the tribe would not interfere in the off-reservation gaming plan since it "did not interfere with their interests."
Ho-Chunk does not have any central reservation property in the state, relying on trust lands across 13 Wisconsin counties. It's estimated the tribe has around 7,500 members, Cleveland said.
Potawatomi officials could not be reached for comment Thursday regarding the recent developments.
In terms of support in Madison, Gov. Scott Walker has not taken a public position on the Beloit casino/resort plan, but Cleveland said the tribe has met with the governor multiple times and noted the relationship between Walker and the tribe is healthy, he said.
Walker is running for reelection in the November 2018 general election.
Cleveland said the tribe's 1990s compact gives the Ho-Chunk rights to establish a fourth gaming facility in Wisconsin, a factor improving the plan's chances at both the federal and state levels.
Ho-Chunk Business Director Robert Mudd said the most recent economic impact study provides key insight for what the project would mean for the Beloit area and the northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin region as a whole.
No future meetings between tribe, city and federal officials is planned in 2018, but Cleveland said if efforts slow down he will reach out to Washington.
"We will do what is necessary to sustain this progression," Cleveland said.
The casino project, planned for near Colley and Willowbrook roads adjacent to Interstate 39/90, could encompass 73.5 acres.