Border Battle

By: Laura Gibbs
By: Laura Gibbs

The feud began when Rockford Mayor Doug Scott asked Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to intervene.

Some area legislators and Mayor Scott sent a letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs who still has to approve the project along with Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle. In the letter, lawmakers and Mayor Scott say Beloit leaders have provided little documentation about the impact this casino would have on Rockford.

Scott questioned how Beloit's casino would economically impact Rockford and if there are any future riverboat plans. Another question from Scott is if the Indian tribes should be allowed to build off their reservation.

Beloit City Manager Larry Arft said Rockford's attempt to meddle in their project was causing tension, so Arft welcomed a meeting between Beloit officials and Rockford stakeholders.

Arft says, "The project is much bigger and has more of an impact than just on the City of Beloit proper. I think we communicated that effectively."

This was the first time many Rockford leaders learned that the casino would cover 65 acres in Wisconsin, 3,000 jobs would need to be filled, and over the next 10 years Beloit and Rock County will profit by $145 million.

Rockford Area Economic Development Council President Bob Levin says, "I absolutely see that there are opportunities for benefits for both sides of the State."

So now that the gloves have come off, Levin says this border battle was a mistake.

Levin tells 23 News, "Perhaps we should have invited them sooner and we'd like to believe that they also perhaps could have taken the initiative to come down sooner."

Others left the meeting saying they feel like there's an equal playing field. Pointing out how the council is learning to find better ways to deal with regional economic development.

Rick Bastian, a member of the board and Chair of the Business Climate Solutions Team, stated, "That change in process is to get all the issues on the table sooner rather than later. If we learned anything from the Trim-Rite disaster it's that we decided we should fight before we knew what we were fighting over."

But Beloit leaders still don't know if Mayor Scott and area legislators will continue to find a way to kill the plan.

Arft reflected after the meeting by saying, "No one really telegraphed their personal feelings so it was difficult to know if we changed any opinions or not."

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has to approve the project which should take place during the summer. Then Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle has the final say.

Mayor Scott had another engagement to attend so he had to leave the meeting without making a comment.


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