Ground broken on casino
By ANDREW McGINN
The Town and Country Band was still playing “Big Spender” Thursday afternoon underneath a tent as plumes of diesel smoke rose from the heavy machinery at the northwest corner of Highways 30 and 4.
For the crews preparing the site of Wild Rose Entertainment’s $40 million casino resort in Greene County, it was right back to work after watching various dignitaries take turns shoveling ceremonial clumps of dirt.
The official groundbreaking ceremony for Wild Rose Jefferson — complete with complimentary champagne, roses and a balloon release — drew an estimated 400 people to what had been, as of just a couple of weeks ago, a soybean field.
“I didn’t know if it’d ever get here,” Tom Timmons, chief operating officer of West Des Moines-based Wild Rose, said of the day.
What began 490 days ago as a “crazy little idea” by local farmer and landowner Kim Rueter culminated Thursday with a brass band playing away in a dirt field.
“Only in Greene County do you get that,” Timmons remarked. “Where else are you going to go and have a brass band playing?”
With 43 acres of Rueter’s beans now plowed under, the field will soon be home to a 71,000-square-foot casino entertainment complex containing 525 slot machines, 14 table games, an events center, restaurant and sports bar.
It’s projected to open in late summer 2015.
McAninch Corp. of Des Moines is performing the current earthwork at the site. Edge Companies of Grimes is the general contractor.
Other early work will be undertaken by Snyder and Associates of Ankeny (civil engineering), Jensen Construction Co. of Des Moines (the foundation) and Mid-States Steel Corp. of Boone (structural steel).
Bad weather already has played a factor in the 13-month construction project, delaying the first stage.
Once complete, the casino will add 275 new jobs to the area with $7 million annually in payroll and benefits.
A 71-room hotel is being developed right alongside the casino by BriMark Builders.
“We won’t let you down,” promised Gary Kirke, chairman of Wild Rose.
“It’s a great day for you all and a great day for us,” he added.
The casino has long been touted as a regional project, and state Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, testified to that Thursday.
Baltimore said he was in the Ogden Fun Days parade last month to shake hands in his bid for re-election against Boone Democrat Hans Erickson.
“I can’t tell you how many people said, ‘We can’t wait ’til that casino gets open in Jefferson.’ This is going to have a huge regional impact,” he said.
On his way Thursday to Jefferson, Baltimore said he kept thinking of the word “courage.”
“It took a great deal of courage,” he said, “for three of the five racing commissioners to vote in favor of this gaming application.”
The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission on June 12 narrowly approved a gaming license for the Greene County casino by a vote of 3-2.
Wild Rose’s nonprofit partner, Grow Greene County Gaming Corp., holds the gaming license and will be tasked with distributing a 5-percent share of gaming receipts — $1.7 million or more annually — to local nonprofits and civic projects.
Of that money, Grow Greene County has pledged to share up to 20 percent with neighboring Boone, Calhoun, Carroll, Dallas, Guthrie and Webster counties.
“It’s a wonderful gift the state racing commission has given to us,” said Norm Fandel, president of Grow Greene County.
Fandel called the casino the missing piece in the area’s economic development puzzle.
“It’s a gift that will keep giving for years to come,” Fandel said.