By Kevin Collison
The pending purchase of the Isle of Capri Casino by a new owner who promises to reinvest significantly in the tired riverfront “boat” has renewed hope it may be connected to a planned streetcar extension.
“It’s something I’ll be discussing extensively with the new owners as they determine their investment plan and plans for Kansas City,” Jon Stephens, president and CEO of Port KC said.
“At this point, it’s too early to know what new plans the prospective owners have, but we’re obviously excited and encouraged they’re looking at possibly reinvesting down there.”
Twin River Worldwide Holdings announced last week it had reached an agreement to buy the Isle of Capri Casino from Eldorado Gaming. The purchase still must be approved by authorities.
In its press release announcing the deal, the Rhode Island-based firm stated it believes the Isle of Capri has much greater potential than it’s realized since opening in 1996 because of its close proximity to downtown and good access from the Northland.
“We feel there is opportunity for capital investment in the property which we believe will have a transformative impact and integrate well with local development efforts in the area,” according to the Twin River statement.
The Isle of Capri perennially has been the weakest performer of area casinos in terms of revenues and attendance.
The property the casino is located is leased from Port KC. The agency receives an annual minimum rent of $2.9 million which it splits with the city.
The Kansas City Streetcar Authority in partnership with Port KC is planning a one-half mile extension of the streetcar from the River Market to Berkley Riverfront Park.
The engineering work for the riverfront extension project is 30 percent complete. The route would use the Grand Boulevard viaduct and the plan includes a new pedestrian/bike bridge that would run parallel to the viaduct.
Last year, the Streetcar Authority told CityScene KC it would like to extend the riverfront route another mile to the Isle of Capri. The benefits would include creating a northern terminus for the route with a strong destination.
Tom Gerend, Streetcar Authority executive director, still believes extending the route to the casino would be a “win-win” and is hopeful Twin River Worldwide will engage in productive conversations.
“It’s always been part of our long-range plan to connect farther east and the Isle of Capri location would be a huge win-win,” he said.
“It would increase access to the riverfront, increase redevelopment opportunities for the casino and be a potential jump-off point for transit connection to the Northland right off the interstate.”
A major benefit for the casino would be direct streetcar access to downtown hotels and the Power & Light District, making it a stronger draw for tourists and conventioneers.
Attempts to reach Twin River Worldwide officials for comment were unsuccessful, but in its press release, the company hinted what it may want to do with the casino, which currently is designed to look like an old-fashioned riverboat.
One potential overhaul was described as enclosing the existing structure in a “lightweight structural and cladding system anchored to the ground.”
“The company expects to substantially reposition the casino and a rendering of one potential redevelopment plan has been included in this release for illustrative purposes,” according to the release.
Port KC has been aggressively pursuing redevelopment along the riverfront. Last year, the 410-unit The Union Berkley Riverfront apartments opened as well as Bar K, an innovative dog park, bar and café complex.
Just last week, Stephens said his agency is close to a new deal with a developer to bring another apartment project that would add another 300- to 350 units to the Berkley Park area.
“We feel there is opportunity for capital investment in the (Isle of Capri) property, which we believe will have a transformative impact on continued development by Port KC and others, and integrate well with current development efforts,” Stephen said in a statement.
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