Why can’t casino fund river park?

Published 12:01 am Thursday, October 25, 2012

The City of Natchez learned this week that its plan to use a state transportation grant to help fund a riverfront park dried up.

Natchez applied for a Mississippi Department of Transportation grant which — along with lease payments from Magnolia Bluffs Casino developer — would create a $2.5 million riverfront park.

No doubt the park would have been amazing. The riverfront is among the city’s most precious assets, and the most underutilized.

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But let’s be honest. It was a stretch to say building a park could reasonably fall under the guise of a transportation enhancement grant.

Nice try, though, really. You can’t blame the city for trying.

Interestingly, the future of the park — and a few other projects — may not be completely dead yet.

Plans for the new Magnolia Bluffs Casino — under construction on city-owned land at the foot of Roth Hill — apparently continue on schedule and could, perhaps, solve the park dilemma.

Mississippi Gaming Regulations indicate the new casino may be required to invest more in land-based, non-gaming infrastructures in order to follow the rules.

If additional infrastructure plans are under way, perhaps we’ve missed them.

State law says casinos must invest at least 100 percent of the higher cost of either the casino’s construction or its appraised value, into non-gaming infrastructure such as hotels, restaurants, etc.

Essentially for every dollar spent on building a casino, developers must spend a dollar on something else.

If the city and the Mississippi Gaming Commission hold developers to that rule, the riverfront park — and likely a few other projects, too — might have a “grant” next door. At the very least it’s worth discussion.