By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
DETROIT — For three groups hoping to open casinos in downtown Detroit, yesterday was like hitting the jackpot.
Mayor Dennis Archer announced the three applicants – Atwater/Circus Circus, Greektown, and MGM Grand – that will be allowed to apply for the city’s three casino licenses.
“These groups have all shown commitment to helping revitalize our city’s downtown,” he said.
A proposal from Mirage Resorts, while “simply outstanding,” was eliminated from contention, Mr. Archer told a packed 13th-floor auditorium in the City-County Building downtown.
When the winners were announced, the auditorium’s lower half – filled with city and casino-group officials – responded with uproarious applause and a standing ovation. In the upper tier, however, there was jeering and heckling from African-Americans upset that none of the casinos will be majority-owned by blacks.
Detroit is 76 per cent black.
“It is very disappointing that, in 1997, black people still can not achieve ownership in this city,” said Paul Taylor, a member of The Community Coalition, a group that has called for black casino ownership.
On Nov. 7, Mr. Archer eliminated three applicants from further consideration for licenses, one of them a group led by Detroit cable magnate Don Barden, who is African-American. Supporters of Mr. Barden’s efforts have called Mr. Archer, who is also black, an “Uncle Tom” and a “sell-out.”
The Community Coalition is planning a rally Monday afternoon to protest the choice of finalists. At a planning meeting this week, the group drew more than 2,500 people, member Mary Ann Moss said.
The decision allows the three groups to begin negotiations with the city for development agreements. Once those are drafted, they must be approved by Detroit’s city council and reviewed by the Michigan Gaming Control Board.
The mayor estimated that the agreements could be brought before council by the end of February.
The winning proposals are from:
* Atwater/Circus Circus, a joint venture between a Detroit group led by Herb Strather and Circus Circus, the Las Vegas-based gaming giant. Mr. Strather, who is black, has been called a “sell-out” by some African-Americans for joining forces with Circus Circus, but Mr. Archer defended the move, recalling the adage: “A significant percentage of something is worth more than 100 per cent of nothing.”
The proposed complex includes a 26-story hotel and, the group said, will provide 3,800 jobs and $87.5 million of payroll annually.
* Greektown, a joint venture between a group of businessmen based in the Detroit neighborhood and the Sault Ste. Marie tribe of Chippewa Indians. The tribe runs five casinos in northern Michigan.
Their casino – the only one for which a site has been selected, in the Greektown neighborhood – would include two hotel buildings over 40 stories tall and create 4,000 new jobs, officials said.
* MGM Grand, owners of the Las Vegas casino of the same name. One of its principal investors is William Pickard, Mr. Archer’s college roommate. If built, the $700-million MGM Grand casino in Detroit would include 11 restaurants, create 3,500 jobs, and create $88 million of payroll each year.