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Cleveland: First phase of casino opening downtown this year

8:09 PM, Feb 3, 2011   |    comments
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At a morning news conference, Gilbert, the Cleveland Cavaliers majority owner, and Caesars Entertainment Corp. Chief Executive Officer Gary Loveman announced that the first phase casino -- and the future larger casino -- will carry the Caesar's Horseshoe brand but the "Old West" theme will be updated with a contemporary look.

Gilbert pledged the casino will not be a "bunker" keeping patrons inside. The goal is to make it a catalyst for downtown shopping, eating and sightseeing.

This Phase I casino  -- with entrances off Public Square and Prospect Road and through the Higbee building's basement level into Tower City Center -- came about after Mayor Frank Jackson and other city leaders asked Gilbert to consider opening a "Phase I" casino near Public Square because the permanent casino, to be built on 16 acres between Huron Road and the Cuyahoga River, won't open until at least 2013.

Today casino officials said they expect the first-phase casino -- which will utilize the basement, the street-level floor and the two floors above it in the landmark Higbee building -- will draw about 5 million visitors a year and employ between 1,500-1,600 people.

Rock Ohio Caesars expects to invest more than $350 million to transform approximately 300,000 sq. ft. of space over four floors of the Higbee Building. Of that, $50 million is for the gaming license.

There will be a VIP player's lounge will occupy the 96,000 sq. ft. of gaming.  The casino will offer an international buffet restaurant and a food court with local partners providing regional fare.

A main-floor feature bar will round out the food, beverage and entertainment offerings.

New lighting, signage and awning designs are planned for the exterior of the Higbee building. It will be named the Horseshoe Cleveland Casino.

There will be about 1,600 casino jobs and 2,000 construction jobs in the building process.

Tommy Byrne is one of the first hardhats already cashing in on the site.

"You remember going down to Santa with mom and dad and shopping at Higbee's. This is putting food on a lot of people's tables," he said.

Caesars officials said they will sponsor several well-publicized job fairs when they are ready to begin hiring for casino jobs.

Instead of a "groundbreaking," local officials tossed golden horseshoes to mark the announcement of the casino.

The Phase I casino will have 2,000 slot machines and 50 to 60 gaming tables for craps, blackjack, roulette and poker.

There will also be a "poker room" with 25 to 30 tables, earmarked with Caesar's World Series of Poker brand name.

"The majority of people hired for the casino, 90 to 95 percent of them, will be from the Cleveland area," said Marcus Glover, introduced today as the first general manager for the Cleveland Horseshoe Casino.

Glover predicted huge success for the casino.

"If you have lots of money, double down on Cleveland!" he advised.

Gilbert said this is a  first step in creating a vibrant downtown.

"We have to be part of something bigger," Gilbert said, at the news conference.

Mayor Jackson predicted this will help make part of downtown a 24-hour city.

On Tuesday, Forest City Enterprises Inc. announced that it had sold the 16 adjacent acres and air rights to Rock Ohio Caesars Cleveland LLC for $85 million.

The land overlooks the Cuyahoga River and sits behind the Tower City Center shopping, restaurant and office complex.

Ohio voters approved casinos in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus and Toledo in November, 2009. The company led by Gilbert will develop the Cleveland and Cincinnati casinos.

Friday, Gilbert and his Caesars partners will host a Cincinnati event to describe the casino they are building there.

WKYC-TV

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