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Developer, City Strike Deal, Clearing Way for Casino

After months of public debate and two days of intense negotiations the developer of the West Side casino has reached an agreement with the city of Columbus which will clear the way for the construction of the gambling center. As final details of a settlement between the city of Columbus and Penn National Gaming were being hammered out in U.S. District Court downtown, across town on Georgesville Road, backhoes and dump trucks were clearing away earth for the casino's foundation. But in order to meet its construction deadline — late next year — the developer says it needs access to water and sewer service. Penn National Vice President Eric Schippers said the company has agreed to annex from Franklin Township into the City of Columbus, in return it will receive water and sewer services. "A key goal for us has been to work to remove all impediments to the development of our casino and this was a big one," Schippers said. Penn National and the city of Columbus have been at odds for months over water and sewer service to the old Delphi site. Columbus had denied the service to the site because it said Penn National was going back on its promise to annex. But Penn National said it deserved tax breaks or some kind of financial incentives since it agreed to move the casino from its previous location in the Arena District. As part of the agreement, the Arena District site, which Penn National owns, will be sold for no less than $11 million. And Columbus will reimburse Penn National $15 million on roadway and environmental improvements at the site which was considered a brown field. City of Columbus Deputy Chief of Staff Greg Davies said negotiations are never perfect. "The hallmark of a good agreement is both sides don't get everything they want, and so we're both probably a little disappointed, disappointed it had to come to this. But at the same time they're going to annex which was our number one priority, and they're going to get water and sewer which was their number one priority," Davies said. The city of Columbus stands to gain millions of dollars in additional tax revenue from the casino's annexation. Also part of the settlement, all current litigation among the city, Franklin County and Penn National will be dismissed. And Columbus will help the company obtain all the permits it needs to finish the casino on time. Penn National's Eric Schippers said he's ready to get the $400 million project fast-tracked. "We're eager to put the past behind us. This has been very tough negotiation I think for both sides. And we're ready to move forward in the spirit of cooperation," Schippers said. The project is expected to create 3,500 construction jobs and 2,000 permanent jobs at the casino. Franklin County Commissioners and Columbus City Council must approve the agreement by June 10.