Casino developers optimistic despite opposition from Haley, others

gmartin@islandpacket.comApril 21, 2012 

Hardeeville city manager Bob Nanni will talk anytime to any group that will listen about a casino in Jasper County.

On Tuesday, he'll pitch the proposal for a casino to the Southern Regional Plan Implementation Committee.

Later in the week, he'll give the same presentation to a group of Sun City Hilton Head residents.

He's never without a thumb drive that holds a PowerPoint presentation on the virtues of the casino.

But Nanni appears to be the only one of the plan's backers actively promoting it now.

"It's fair to say we're in a holding pattern," he acknowledges.

CAN HALEY BE CONVINCED?

Both Nanni and the investors behind the proposal insist there have been no snags, and they're still planning to pitch the development to Gov. Nikki Haley. Her endorsement, which might be difficult to get, is required for the casino project to be built.

If she does support it, the 50-acre complex would then be considered by the federal Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs, a process developers expect to take six to 18 months.

Haley's opposition to the casino continues to be strong and unwavering .

During a visit Thursday to Hilton Head Island, she was asked what it would take to change her position.

"I'm not going to change my stance on Jasper," she said. "... I know we've brought manufacturing to Jasper. I know we're looking at bringing more manufacturing and businesses to Jasper, and I think that we can do better."

She added that locals who support the development because of the jobs it would create -- 2,250 on-site and 4,700 statewide, according to the developers -- may not actually benefit from the nature of that employment.

"I know that the people of Jasper want to see the jobs, and I know that they want to see the growth. I would ask them to understand they deserve more than that.

"They deserve good manufacturing, good-paying jobs. They deserve to have the quality of life that every other place in the state has. I don't think that gambling and that industry is something we need to bring into Jasper."

Told of those comments, Bob McAlister, a Columbia businessman who is helping market the casino proposal, seemed unfazed.

"I'm not at all discouraged," he said. "We have confidence that she'll listen to all the facts and make her best judgment as she sees fit. She's very fair."

McAlister said his group had not yet established when it would meet with the governor, but Joe Brinn, a managing partner of the Hilton Head Lakes development, where the complex would be located, expects it will be within 45 days.

Brinn said he remains optimistic about persuading the governor to change her mind.

"She doesn't have all the information we do," he said.

OPPOSING THE PLAN

Haley is not alone in her opposition.

Earlier this month, Hilton Head resident John Garnett formed the Committee Against The Casino in Hardeeville, or CATCH, to voice concerns he says are shared by many fellow residents of Port Royal Plantation.

Garnett said his 11-member committee has sent letters to Haley and many local politicians, including Hilton Head Mayor Drew Laughlin and state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort.

"This is something that threatens our quality of life," Garnett said. "I don't have any moral issues with casinos or with people who want to spend their money there, but I think it would diminish the Hilton Head brand."

Nanni said CATCH was the first organized opposition to the development he's aware of and that local response to his presentation has been almost universally supportive.

"Most people are real excited about it," he said.

"But this is going to be a lengthy process, with nothing done quickly."

Follow reporter Grant Martin at Twitter.com/LowCoBiz.

Related content: Developers unveil rendering of proposed Hardeeville casino complex, Feb. 29, 2012

Casino complex pitched to Beaufort County civic leadership association, Feb. 23, 2012

Developers, policitians backing proposed Hardeeville casino complex outline plans, Feb. 8, 2012

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