Any lingering questions regarding the City of Brandon’s pursuit of a casino were seemingly laid to rest this week by Mayor Shari Decter Hirst, who said the city was shelving the idea.
“It’s dead,” Decter Hirst told the Sun. “(The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs) is going forward with the Carberry proposal and the province continues to support AMC’s decision, whatever AMC’s decision would be. And so, for all intents and purposes it’s done. Which I think is really unfortunate.
“I keep hoping that the decision will be challenged, that the Hemisphere decision will be challenged by the aboriginal community. Because gaming’s primary purpose is economic development, there are much better opportunities than the one that they, at the end of the day, settled for.”
But the city’s position hasn’t stopped the Tribal Councils Investment Group — the city’s partner in exploring the casino question — from asking the province to reconsider its stance.
In an emailed statement to the Sun late Tuesday, TCIG CEO Allan McLeod said his organization had completed the business plans for a casino proposal and had been successful in raising financing commitments for the project.
“We have confirmed the business case and benefits that will spin off to the City of Brandon, the (First Nation) communities, the business community, as well as the province,” McLeod said.
“We now simply need to meet with the province to demonstrate, all the jobs and opportunities that are available and we can keep all the cash and benefits right here in Manitoba.”
TCIG has made contact with the provincial government, McLeod said, and is “awaiting confirmation of a meeting date.”
In a previous interview, McLeod said he still believed a gaming development partnership with Brandon was possible. He also said that partnership wasn’t limited to a casino.
“I think there’s been groups in the past that have pursued quasi-gaming licences, when you look at the Assiniboia Downs and revenue sharing to make MTS Centre happen,” McLeod told the Sun last month.
In May, the city announced it had partnered with the TCIG, the business arm of seven tribal council groups representing 55 of Manitoba’s 61 First Nation bands, with the intent of securing the right to build a casino on city-owned land.
However, following months of discussion and outreach with the AMC and the province, Grand Chief Derek Nepinak publicly backed a scaled-down Spirit Sands Casino project south of Carberry in November after the organization’s gaming chiefs signed a management agreement with Hemisphere Gaming Inc.
In the wake of that decision, Decter Hirst said the city’s partnership with TCIG is on hold for the time being, although she left the door open to future business ventures with the investment group should opportunities present themselves.
“We don’t have any other projects now that would need that kind of expertise or skill set that TCIG have. But certainly I thought it was a valuable partnership that we did have. So I’m not adverse to repeating it if something else comes along.”
While the exploration of the casino option has been unsuccessful, city manager Scott Hildebrand says the process has not been without merit.
“It has not been a waste of time,” Hildebrand said. “It was a great experience working with AMC, meeting with AMC, and getting a chance to meet a lot of the First Nations chiefs and people, to understand some of the opportunities and economic development opportunities they’re looking for as well.”
In his position as city manager, Hildebrand has the ability to explore possible business opportunities for the city — as in the case of a casino — as long as any plans are brought back to council and presented for final approval.
While there are currently no other economic development plans in the works with Westman’s aboriginal community, Hildebrand says this experience has opened his eyes to the possibilities.
“It’s allowed me to think a little bit differently about how aboriginal people and economic development may work in southwestern Manitoba.”
Decter Hirst said she regrets that the city hasn’t had the opportunity to work with AMC, TCIG and the greater aboriginal community on economic development. However, unless the AMC or the provincial government have a change of heart, the city needs to move beyond the casino question.
There are plenty of other development opportunities for the city still being pursued she said, particularly with the city’s plans for a hospitality and entertainment area in downtown Brandon.
“Commitment to downtown Brandon is not tied to the casino,” Decter Hirst said. “That wasn’t the only arrow in the quiver. We’ve got all kinds of stuff that we’re working on downtown.”