PITTSBURG — In early 2015, hope abounded that construction on one of four promising casino options would be well under way by the end of the year.
The Emerald City Casino Resort in Frontenac, Castle Rock Casino Resort near Interstate 44 in Cherokee County, Kansas Crossing at the northwest corner of U.S. 400 and 69 highways in Crawford County and SEK Casino Partners north of Interstate 44 in Cherokee County all had rolled out plans from which the Kansas Lottery Gaming Facilities Review Board (LGFRB) could choose.
Kansas Crossing was selected by the board, but a pair of lawsuits have delayed construction for months, with Crawford County Commissioners pondering potential legal action as 2016 begins.
In March, the Emerald City partnership between the Quapaw Tribe and Las Vegas casino developer Phil Ruffin fell apart, with Quawpaw Tribe Chairman John Berrey citing what he called Kansas’ hostile attitude toward the tribe, as well as pending litigation, as primary reasons for withdrawing from the Emerald City proposal.
In May, Castle Rock’s viability was questioned in a study funded by the Crawford County Convention and Visitors Bureau, with Castle Rock inviting scrutiny of the numbers.
By the time June rolled around, Castle Rock and Kansas Crossing were the two major contenders for the state bid, and by late June Kansas Crossing was selected, with the requirement that it open within 12 months, pending a background check on all investors and partners.
“We’re already mobilizing construction equipment so we can begin site work quickly. We’ll host a ceremonial ground breaking later in July. This schedule will allow us to open June 2016,” said Bruce Christenson, lead investor and developer at the time.
On July 2, the casino officially was given the go-ahead by the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission, however the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners requested a preliminary injunction in late July, contending that the gaming board violated state law, which required them to award the bid to the proposal which would “best maximize revenue, encourages tourism and otherwise serves the best interest of the people of Kansas,” by awarding the contract to the smallest of three proposals. Attorneys for Castle Rock Casino Resort joined in, filing a lawsuit on July. 31.
Construction on Kansas Crossing was halted shortly thereafter with the issuance of a 90 day extension of the “commencement date” by the Kansas Lottery Commission.
A second extension was approved in early December, with the total delay reaching 180 days, prompting Crawford County Commissioners to begin discussing a countersuit.
“You have people without jobs because of Cherokee County’s shenanigans,” said Crawford County Commissioner Tom Moody at the Dec. 4 meeting. “I want to know what recourse we have.”
“It’s unfortunate the lawsuit has caused so many entities to lose revenue,” said Kansas Crossing Spokesman Jonathan Swain. “We respect any of them who would try to reclaim these revenues.”
PSU celebrates new facilities
The Pittsburg State community enjoyed ….
The $33 million Bicknell Family Center for the Arts kicked off its first season with a performance of “Eurydice,” the grand opening featuring Gene Bicknell, a series of concerts and a speech by former First Lady Laura Bush.
In the fall, the university announced the H. Lee Scott Speaker Series: An Examination of American Life and the first speaker in the endowed series, former President Bill Clinton, who graced the stage Nov. 23.
In 2015, the campus also celebrated the spring opening of the Robert W. Plaster Center, a $13 million indoor event center that landed the 2016 and 2018 NCAA Division II Indoor Track and Field National Championships prior to being constructed.
In August, the community celebrated again at the ribbon cutting for the newly remodeled Jack H. Overman Student Center, a $14 million expansion that functions as the campus’ “living room.”
“We understand that just as in your home, the living room is where you gather as a family to listen, to talk, to better understand one another,” said Jeff Steinmiller, director of the Overman Student Center. “It’s where you recharge after a long day at the office, where you share stories of your day and where you make memories that will last a lifetime.”
Chevi Peters wins gold
No one captured the enthusiasm of the community quite like Chevi Peters, a Special Olympics Athlete with the local New Hope Bulldogs who, under the coaching of John Lair, became the national powerlifting champion this summer, bringing home three gold medals and a silver from his trip to Los Angeles, during which he also carried the torch.
“I stand in front of you as a man who I was told I should not be,” Peters said in once speech following the championship. “I stand in front of you as a proud Special Olympics athlete that has made his dreams come true every day.”
Peters’ story was featured on ESPN and the photo of him jumping into Lair’s arms went viral as his home community celebrated his success.
“It feels great knowing that my story is out there,” Peters said. “Knowing that they get the chance to see what I get to do and what I’ve done and what I’ve been going through.”
“We’ve had tons of love,” Lair said. “It’s truly amazing all the people that have taken part of this story, just because Chevi has been through so much. To be honest with you, it’s really humbling how many people too a hold of this story and realized how great this accomplishment is for Chevi.”
USD 250 gears up for bond issue election
Growing student populations and aging buildings have been on the minds of USD 250 since well before the start of 2015.
Throughout the spring months, a visioning committee shared its thoughts and patrons had the opportunity to provide input via a survey.
This fall, the district officially proposed a $67.6 million bond issue election for January 2016, which will be conducted via mail ballot.
As 2016 came to a close, the proposal drew fire from “vote no” preservationists who argued that the PCMS towers should be able to be renovated and from other groups contesting the cost of the bond issue.
Meanwhile, proponents of the issue cite overcrowding at all ages, the need for significant updates at several buildings and the lack of storm shelters among their reasons to “invest in yes.”
Historical museum closes, plans to reopen
When the Crawford County Historical Museum shut its doors this spring, many feared it would be for good.
However, city and county leaders put out a plea for volunteers to help reopen the museum, with Crawford County and the Crawford County Convention and Visitors Bureau offering funding to help up to three area museums work toward sustainability.
“I think everybody here is intersted in getting it opened up again,” said Carl Wood, Crawford County commissioner.
Area residents, including Amanda Minton, answered that call, worked to get paperwork in place and have a large-scale workday scheduled for Jan. 9, 2016, with hopes that the museum’s doors would reopen in March.
Other notable stories from 2015 include:
• The renewal of a 0.5 percent city sales tax in Pittsburg for the maintenance of streets.
• Completion of a years-long project to build a playground for all abilities in Schlanger Park, named Katherine’s Playground.
• Construction beginning in several locations throughout USD 248, following the overwhelming passage of a 2014 bond issue.
• The death of 67-year-old Bob Grant, who represented Kansas’ Second District in Topeka for 20 years.
• A marathon 114-day legislative session at the Kansas Statehouse, which included proposed furloughs of non-essential state employees, school funding block grants and a nearly all-night session prior to the passing of Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget.
• An announcement by Miller’s Professional Imaging that the company plans to add 75 full-time jobs.
• Work officially began on the proposed La Quinta hotel at the south end of Pittsburg, with a groundbreaking taking place Dec. 29.
• The formation of a land bank by the City of Pittsburg and formalization of a land swap with Pittsburg State University, both which will aid the city’s plans to prioritize housing.