Hollister Downtown Association joins list of agencies opposing casino

Hollister – The Hollister Downtown Association announced its
opposition to a proposed Miwok casino near Hollister, citing its
board members’ belief that the casino would detract from businesses
in the historical downtown and cause the area’s economy to
suffer.
Hollister – The Hollister Downtown Association announced its opposition to a proposed Miwok casino near Hollister, citing its board members’ belief that the casino would detract from businesses in the historical downtown and cause the area’s economy to suffer.

“Our mission is to revitalize the downtown to become the social and economic hub of the community,” said HDA President Jeff Welch. “A casino out near the airport, in the opinion of the board members, is not congruent with that.”

Kelly Owczarzak, owner of Kelly’s Gift Place, said she tends to support the HDA’s decision, though she’ll keep an open mind.

“I guess I probably don’t know enough about it (the casino) yet, but I don’t really see the benefit it would have for local businesses,” she said. “I mean, when I go to Vegas, I go to gamble, I don’t necessarily go to shop.”

The five-member California Valley Miwok tribe has teamed up with investors from Game Won to set up a resort and casino off Highway 156 on about 200 acres near the Hollister airport. The casino would eventually include a hotel, restaurants, and entertainment venues, and could be similar in size to Yolo County’s Cache Creek casino, which is over 74,000 square feet with 2,300 slot machines.

It was originally proposed for U.S. 101 and Highway 25 and a number of Gilroyans, including Joe Giacalone and Chris Vanni, are investors.

California Valley Miwok Project Manager Gary Ramos said he and the investors were disappointed the HDA did not wait for the casino camp’s economic impact report before taking its stance. The project would bring 2,000 jobs and throngs of tourists to the area, Ramos said. Both the San Benito County Board of Supervisors and the San Juan Bautista City Council recently took an anti-casino stance, prompting Ramos to say the those two groups’ decisions were too hastily made.

“It’s just a half-hour presentation that the Downtown Association has made their decision on,” said Ramos, who spoke with the HDA in February. “Maybe once they get the economic impact report they’ll change their view.”

But Welch said Friday the half-hour presentation was all the HDA’s board needed to make an informed decision.

“We didn’t need to wait for an economic impact report, that wasn’t necessary,” Welch said. “We had all the information we needed. Besides, any economic report put together by their people, in my opinion, would be questionable.”

Ramos said investors were putting together a plan to bus non-gaming casino patrons to downtown Hollister, where they would leave them for two hours to have lunch and shop.

Welch was not convinced.

“Their entire speech was full of ‘we’re looking at,’ ‘we’re considering,’ ‘we’ve thought about.’ There was nothing concrete whatsoever,” said Welch. “Even if they did bring buses down here, we think the primary purpose of those buses would be picking people up downtown and bringing them back to the casino. So we did not buy into what they were saying on that issue at all.”

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he will not negotiate gaming compacts with tribes outside their indigenous areas without overwhelming support from the locals.

Because the Miwoks have not yet proven their ties to San Benito County, various groups like the HDA and the county board of supervisors want to show the governor a lack of support for the casino. Ramos and the investors are still in talks with the Hollister City Council, which has not yet taken an official stance one way or the other. Mayor Pauline Valdivia has appointed herself and Councilman Brad Pike to a subcommittee that will be meeting with the casino investors and local anti-casino group Casinos Represent A Poor Solution to investigate the pros and cons of a casino in Hollister.

While the tribe’s Washington D.C.-based lawyer has said he intends to prove the tribe has ancestral ties to San Benito County, the Miwoks and their investors have also begun to draw a growing crowd of local supporters who say they want the 2,000 union-wage job with benefits Ramos has promised.

Doug Emerson, the only member of the Hollister City Council who has taken a stance against the casino, said he was glad to hear that the HDA was opposing the project and supported its reasons.

“The more I read and look at other areas where casinos have been, the more I see there has been a drop in local business,” Emerson said.

Councilwoman Monica Johnson, who is on the council’s ad hoc economic committee along with Emerson, said the economic committee needed to look at ventures besides the casino that might hurt downtown businesses before slamming the casino.

“I think there’s a lot of things that are going to affect our downtown, and I think the casino’s one of them. We need to look at the long-term and not just the casino,” said Johnson.

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