HARRISBURG -- Friday marks the one-year anniversary of Centaur Inc. getting one of two things it needs to create a new $425 million harness racetrack and slot machine casino west of New Castle in Lawrence County.
On Sept. 5, 2007, the state Harness Racing Commission granted Indianapolis-based Centaur a harness racing license.
But before it can start construction on the project that Lawrence County officials hope will generate needed jobs and an economic shot in the arm, Centaur has to get a slots license from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.
No one knows when, or even if, that will happen. The board has said it's still working on Centaur's application and doing background investigations, though it does plan to hold a hearing on the bid for a license sometime this month in Harrisburg.
Centaur's troubles have been accentuated recently because of tight credit markets and financial problems with some of its lenders.
But Lawrence County officials haven't lost hope. To spur the gaming board to act on the slots license, county tourism officials and Carmen Shick, the head of Lawrence County-based Ambrosia Enterprises, will hold a rally Friday near the proposed racetrack/casino site, along Route 422 near the Ohio line.
Mr. Shick is one of the leading cheerleaders for the racetrack/casino project.
"It's the linchpin to this region's economic recovery," he said.
His strong pro-Centaur stand is a notable turnaround, because from 2003 to 2007 Mr. Shick strongly fought Centaur in an unsuccessful effort to get the harness racing license for a group he headed with other family members.
They own the 250-acre site along Route 422 where Centaur wants to build its racetrack/casino, to be called Valley View Downs. Mr. Shick had wanted to build his own track/casino, which was to have been called Bedford Downs, on the same site.
Centaur originally had planned to build its project along Route 60 in Beaver County, but harness board officials liked Mr. Shick's site better. It was bigger and flatter, and could hold a one-mile harness track, which would be the first track of that size in Pennsylvania, able to attract prestigious harness races.
So when the harness board gave the racing license to Centaur, Mr. Shick shifted to Plan B -- a proposed $400 million indoor water park, along with one or more hotels, 400,000 square feet of retail shops and a number of new condominiums -- to go on 300 additional acres of his family-owned land next to the racetrack/casino site.
But Mr. Shick said that his water park-plus project won't be started until the racetrack/casino is well under construction.
The two developments combined, he said, "will constitute a major entertainment destination, one that Lawrence County dearly needs. We need the several thousand new jobs. We need the additional taxes. We need the private investment. We need to get these projects done."
Lawrence County Commissioner Dan Vogler agrees. He plans to attend every gaming board meeting, held once or twice a month, until action is taken on Centaur's license request.
Richard Wukich, a Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania art professor and one of the rally organizers, said people need to realize the importance of the couple of thousand or more jobs the proposed developments would bring.
Because things have taken so long, he said, some people have the misconception "that Lawrence County was denied the gaming license, and that's just not so. We are here to support the efforts of Centaur as they move forward in their efforts to obtain the license that we anticipate will be awarded this fall."
Gaming board officials won't say when a vote on the license will come. They will hold a "suitability hearing" later this month, to hear testimony on whether Centaur officials have the proper business background, financial resources and clean criminal history needed to operate a casino. Centaur owns a racetrack in Indiana and a casino in Colorado.
The rally will begin Friday at 2 p.m. at Ambrosia Enterprises, 2859 Benjamin Franklin Highway, Edinburg, five miles west of New Castle on Route 422.
Bureau Chief Tom Barnes can be reached at email@example.com or 1-717-787-4254.