Today”s print column.
Cedar Crossing certainly made a splash.
The proposed casino in downtown Cedar Rapids showed itself as investors handed in their official license application to the Racing and Gaming Commission. Its artistic renderings are striking, with balconies and stone and plenty of glass. It will house a steakhouse, deli, buffet and bars. The joint has gone from a modest $85 million facility to a $139 million extravaganza. Its chances of landing a license, already good, now seem great.
Oh, and there will be two floors of gambling,
That’s almost tough to remember as we gaze at a casino that doesn’t look quite like a casino. Parts of its exterior are more akin to the new downtown public library, also designed by OPN architects, than a Bellagio-style palace of cash and sin. “Cedar Crossing” sounds more like a town house development than a gambling joint with 900 games. Its name invokes the history of a pioneer crossing point on the Cedar River, a poker chip’s toss from the casino.
It also fits well into Iowa’s gambling history, which has been a masquerade ball from the beginning. It’s not high-stakes gambling, it’s a historic riverboat cruise. It’s not just high-stakes gambling, it’s a docked historic riverboat destination. OK, there’s lots and lots of gambling, but look at our golf course, restaurants and spa.
Over the last week or so, the Cedar Rapids casino has boldly been described as a beacon, a game-changer, a tour de force that could heal community wounds, spur development and much, much more. “You’re going to love this town again. People are going to be talking about this town all over the country,” said City Council member Don Karr, as the council enthusiastically voted to approve the casino’s development agreement.
“I’m not a gambler,” Karr said, adding that he would definitely go for a meal or a show. If I had a $5 chip for everyone who has told me they love this proposed casino, but don’t personally gamble, I’d have a jackpot.
As an Iowan who has watched this industry mature, I look upon this stuff with amused curiosity, not scorn. No matter that you can’t swing a money bag in Iowa without hitting a casino, we still like to keep gambling at arm’s length.
I also like bars and buffets and enjoy steak more than slots. I certainly hope this impressive venture is a big success. It likely will be.
But I know that Cedar Crossing will depend on gamblers. Lots of them. The fact that smoking will be allowed on the primary gaming floors tells us that, for all the broadly appealing amenities, investors are unwilling to risk alienating their most profitable patrons. Beneath that striking exterior will puff the lungs of a casino.