SIOUX CITY | The Missouri River Historical Development board on Wednesday agreed to partner with a Las Vegas developer on a proposed Hard Rock-themed casino and entertainment center in downtown Sioux City.
The $100 million complex, which would incorporate the historic Battery Building at 323 Water St., would employ more than 500 people, according to plans.
MHRD President Mark Monson said the project goes well beyond the nonprofit group's goal of creating a "wow factor.”
"This facility will become a destination for people around the country with an exciting entertainment and amenities," Monson told the audience after Wednesday night's meeting at the Holiday Inn downtown. "It raises the bar in our community for years to come."
Mayor Bob Scott said the city also is prepared to support the project, called Hard Rock Casino Sioux City, which would be developed by Sioux City Entertainment, a subsidiary of Warner Gaming. Warner owns the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas and properties around the country.
The deal is contingent upon MRHD and Sioux City Entertainment securing a state gaming license. The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission in June decided to replace the Argosy Sioux City casino docked on the Missouri River with a more lucrative onshore gaming facility. The five-member panel took the unprecedented step of putting Woodbury County's license up for bid after months of failed talks on a new long-term deal between Argosy's owner, Penn National Gaming Inc., and MRHD, which jointly holds the riverboat's license.
MRHD and Sioux City Entertainment plan to submit a joint application to the IRGC before a Nov. 1 deadline. Iowa's unique gambling law requires casino operators to partner with local nonprofit groups, known as Qualified Sponsoring Organizations.
Monson declined to discuss terms of its agreement with Sioux City Entertainment, including the percentage of gaming revenue the nonprofit group would collect. MRHD's current take from the Argosy is 3 percent, the state minimum.
So far, no other bids for a land casino in Woodbury County have been submitted. The IRGC is scheduled to award the license on April 18.
If Sioux City Entertainment comes away with the license, construction could begin by next summer, said developer President Bill Warner. The project would take about a year to complete, meaning the casino would open summer or fall 2014, he said.
The 100,000-square-foot complex would include 30,000 square feet of gaming space with about 800 slot machines and 32 table games, Warner said.
The complex, covering more than 100,000 square feet, also would feature a buffet and two specialty restaurants and a venue for live music and other entertainment venue that would hold about 750 people, Warner said. In warmer weather, the seating would extend outdoors, creating an amphitheater-like setting.
After visiting Sioux City and talking to local officials, Warner came away impressed with the community's rich music culture and the entertainment options already here.
"We felt we could take the Hard Rock brand and marry that in Sioux City," he said. "It's just a great combination of the history and culture and focus of the community today with a great world recognized brand."
The walls of the casino complex would be adorned with memorabilia from musical performers, from Jimi Hendrix to Sioux City native Tommy Bolin, according to plans. A Hard Rock Casino store also would offer merchandise bearing the global chain's iconic name.
According to architectural renderings, the Hard Rock name and logo displayed on the signature six-story clock tower of the Battery Building. A 20-foot-tall guitar would rest on top of the other end of the century-old, four-story brick structure.
Monson said the guitar would be visible to motorists traveling along nearby Interstate 29. The new interstate exit for Wesley Parkway would bring traffic past the casino along Third Street, he said. A 1,000-space surface parking lot is planned.
The Battery Building formerly served as the corporate offices and warehouse for Bomgaars' regional chain of retail stores. The casino project would be roughly bounded by Wesley Parkway and Fifth, Third Water and Water streets.
MRHD officials declined to identify other downtown parcels that would be needed for the project.
Scott said the city has been asked to contribute tax-increment financing for the project infrastructure, but declined to offer details.
"We're negotiating a deal that keeps the city whole and retires the bond without any cost to the taxpayers," the mayor said.
The city, which owns the riverfront land where the Argosy is docked, receives 3 percent of the boat's gross revenues, or around $1.8 million annually.
Before negotiating its deal with Warner Gaming, MRHD considered proposals from some other developers, including its long-time partner Penn National Gaming and Ho-Chunk Inc., the economic development corporation for the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska.
Wyomissing, Pa.-based Penn, the nation's second-largest gaming company, has offered to invest up to $100 million in a downtown Sioux City casino.
Last month, Penn filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against MRHD, and asked a judge for a temporary restraining order to prevent the nonprofit group from a joint application to the IRGC with another operator.
"We are surprised at the recent announcement by MRHD of their partnership with Hard Rock, given that we presented a new proposal to the MRHD board on Sept. 27, yet never received a response from the organization in reaction to that proposal," Karen Bailey, Penn's director of public affairs said in a statement late Wednesday.
"Just because MRHD has moved forward -- despite being in breach of our contract -- with a new partner, it does not undo the contract we currently have with them through 2015," Bailey continued.
Penn claims MRHD is bound by a contract extension it signed with the nonprofit group in June. The deal, which would have run through March 31, 2015, was rejected by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission the next month.
MRHD claims the extension is null and void because the state regulatory body did not approve it.