SOUTH BELOIT, Ill.

Ho-Chunk Nation leaders are optimistic the Trump administration will greenlight their proposed casino in Beloit, but the project still has plenty of bureaucratic hurdles to clear.

Municipal and tribal leaders held a press conference Thursday at the Nature of the Confluence Learning Center south of the Wisconsin-Illinois border. They shared details of the casino’s recently completed economic impact report and explained what must be done before the $405 million project can break ground.

The proposed Ho-Chunk development would be more than a casino. Located in Beloit west of Interstate 90/39 near Willowbrook and Colley roads, it would also include a hotel, convention center and indoor water park.

The added amenities would make the project a family-oriented destination, Ho-Chunk Nation President Wilfrid Cleveland said. Ho-Chunk would also own an adjacent parcel and lease it for private retail development.

Before it can move any further, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs must approve the project’s application. The application underwent five years of review in a regional office and has since moved to the federal office, Beloit City Manager Lori Luther said.

If the bureau approves the application, there would then be a public comment and public hearing period before moving on for final local and state approval, Cleveland said.

But the development must secure federal consent first, which tribal leaders believe is now more realistic.

“The Trump administration seems a lot more aggressive in wanting to get things done,” Cleveland said. “There’s a Native American liaison in the White House that we met with. He just came into this position not too long ago and was puzzled why it was taking so long because there’s so much benefit, not only for us but the community. To him, it’s a great partnership.”

An economic analysis performed by The Innovation Group, a New Orleans-based company, showed the casino, hotel, water park and convention center would employ nearly 1,500 people. It would generate about 1,000 additional jobs at surrounding businesses, according to the analysis.

Ho-Chunk Nation Business Department Executive Director Robert Mudd said the pay was “very good” despite many jobs having a $10 hourly wage. The positions also offered a comprehensive health insurance and benefits package, as well as on-site child care for employees, he said.

Luther said the Ho-Chunk Nation would not pay property taxes for the casino site because of an intergovernmental agreement between the tribe, Beloit and Rock County. The Ho-Chunk Nation would instead make a yearly payment of about $5 million, with 70 percent of that going to the city and the remainder going to the county.

The private retail development land would be fully taxable, she said.

The city and county have already given preliminary support to the casino project. Cleveland said Gov. Scott Walker has not committed to signing anything but has approved of what the tribe has done so far.

Cleveland is not concerned that Walker would nix the project like he did in 2015 to a proposed Menominee casino in Kenosha. That fell through because the state had agreed to reimburse the Potawatomi tribe for potential revenue losses due to the new casino.

That compact does not apply to this proposal, and the Potawatomi tribe has offered support for the Ho-Chunk project, Cleveland said.

The Ho-Chunk Nation is hoping to begin construction in 2020 and open the following year.

Luther believes the project would be an economic boon to the stateline region.

“This information is very exciting. The number of job creation, both direct and indirect, the scope of the project, all of these things are, quite frankly, grander than we had hoped or anticipated,” she said. “We think (this) really puts us in better position than we thought we’d be originally.”

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