It’s “too late” for Beloit to hold an advisory referendum on the Ho-Chunk Nation’s proposed casino and resort, Beloit’s former city manager told about 40 people Tuesday night.
Larry Arft, who retired as city manager in 2015 after 12 years on the job, answered questions from a crowd gathered at Domenico’s restaurant, where some shared concerns about the proposed $405 million development at Interstate 90/39 near Willowbrook and Colley roads.
Tuesday’s meeting occurred one week after the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs hosted a public hearing in Beloit on the draft environmental impact statement for the 33 acres that are being considered for the federal trust.
The impact statement is the final step in the tribe’s complicated, expensive and yearslong process to secure federal approval for the casino. Most who spoke at that hearing supported the project.
Beloit contractor Bill Dorr moderated Tuesday’s conversation, which touched on a range of topics and at times got animated.
Some people asked why another advisory referendum couldn’t be held to weigh public opinion on the project.
Dorr said an advisory referendum on a possible casino was held in 2000. He argued that Beloit has changed significantly since then and that the Beloit City Council should “just think about” holding another referendum.
Attendees also raised concerns about the four options the bureau is considering for the development. They include the casino and resort as proposed, a “reduced” casino and commercial development, a singular retail development without the casino, and no development at all.
Arft said he doesn’t think the tribe “would build it without the casino,” and he said the first option—the full $405 million casino and resort—is the primary focus. He pointed to a detailed intergovernmental agreement between Beloit, Rock County and the tribe, which was first approved in 2012 and has since been extended by the county and city.
He said a development that strays from that agreement—which calls for the first option—would require new negotiations and could lead to costly litigation because it would break the agreement.
He also said an advisory referendum in Beloit could spark litigation because the agreement indicates the city supports the proposed casino.
“This project has been done in the open. ... There’s been extensive press coverage going back every step along the way,” Arft said. “I know there’s a few of you here that are nervous about it or don’t like it. That happens.
“This project has been overwhelmingly supported by the Beloit community for 20 years.”