Mystery Group May Finance Proposed Detroit Riverfront Casino

By Kathleen Gray, Detroit Free Press
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Jun. 2--An entrepreneur, loaded with cash and armed with a license to open a casino, would be the best option to build, own and run a new Cobo Hall.

Such a person exists, said Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson on Tuesday. He said a local investment group wants to build a casino and convention center with 1.2 million square feet of exhibit space and a hotel on the Detroit riverfront.

He wouldn't name the mystery investor, only saying the group has made significant investments in metro Detroit and has approached Detroit leaders with his proposal.

County officials did say it's not Don Barden, a Detroit businessman who has tried for years to get a casino license in the city.

City officials said Tuesday they have heard nothing of such a plan.

Patterson also wouldn't divulge whether the investor was associated with one of the three existing casinos or would require an additional gaming license. Getting another casino license for the city represents a huge hurdle.

To add another license requires a three-quarters vote of both the state House and Senate, a highly unlikely prospect considering the competing interests.

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick wants a new convention facility to ensure that the North American International Auto Show and Society of Automotive Engineers Convention remain in Detroit and to attract more large events. Cobo was built in 1960 and expanded in 1989.

If his plan can't fly, Patterson outlined other options Tuesday.

The report preempts a study being prepared by the Tourism Action Group that will make recommendations on a new or expanded Cobo Hall.

City officials said they are anxiously awaiting the committee's recommendations in the next several weeks.

"Oakland County has not indicated to us any lack of support for the TAG process and they have not represented this report as a replacement for the final TAG recommendation," said Walt Watkins, chief development officer for the City of Detroit.

Patterson said he felt an obligation to complete an independent evaluation of the issues surrounding Cobo because Oakland County almost certainly would be expected to contribute to a Cobo project.

He said Oakland's voters won't support new taxes for the project.

The cost for a new or expanded Cobo would have to be spread more widely, including:

A hotel/motel tax in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties that pays for the Cobo debt would be expanded to include Washtenaw, Monroe, Livingston and St. Clair counties.

General Motors, Ford and DaimlerChrysler are expected to contribute $100 million to $200 million depending on whether Cobo is rebuilt or expanded.

Automobile dealerships and suppliers would contribute $50 million to $125 million.

The state should contribute $75 million to $150 million for Cobo.

Casinos would add $50 million to $100 million.

An expanded facility -- with an estimated cost of $465 million to $665 million -- would make more sense, said Patterson.

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