There were a handful of vocal opponents and a few others who think it’s a great idea, but the majority just wanted to learn more about a casino project being proposed near Yampa Valley Regional Airport.
“I think at this point if you’re not taking an objective look at this project, you’re already doing a disservice to the town of Hayden, because these types of projects don’t come along all the time,” said Karl Koehler, a 17-year Hayden resident.
He was one of about 75 people who attended the meeting Thursday night at the Haven Community Center. The meeting was hosted by the six local men in the Sleeping Giant Group who are proposing the project. The group says the casino is a way to diversify the local economy, and they plan to host similar meetings this summer in Craig and Steamboat Springs to gather community input and answer questions. Another meeting is planned for Hayden, and the group wants to form an advisory group composed of Hayden residents.
The members of the Sleeping Giant Group chose to have their first meeting in Hayden because they say residents there ultimately will decide whether the proposal becomes reality. Community support is essential because Colorado’s governor would have to approve the casino.
“It really does start here,” said Steamboat Springs resident Steve Hofman, a member of the Sleeping Giant Group along with Johnny Spillane, Hayden resident Dave Marin, Hayden developer Stefanus Nijsten, Nijsten’s business partner Bob Zibell, and Steamboat attorney Scott McGill.
On Thursday, Hayden residents spoke in tones of desperation about the economic future of their town. One woman said the town is dying.
“I see this as an opportunity for Hayden,” resident Gary Williams said. “I’ve lived here forever and I’d like to see something happen.”
Longtime resident Kathy Hockin agreed that something needs to happen in Hayden, but she wants to see ideas other than an Indian casino.
“This is a very conservative community,” Hockin said. “I just don’t think it will go.”
Members of the Sleeping Giant Group gave those who attended a lot to think about as they shape their opinions going forward. And a lot of it had to do with the direct economic impact the project developers say the casino would bring to Hayden.
Hofman told attendees that Hayden could receive as much as $5 million annually from the casino. He said in other communities with casinos, agreements are formed that outline things such as how law enforcement is handled. Indian-owned casinos do not pay taxes, so annual fees can be awarded to impacted towns instead, Hofman said. Based on past agreements and conservative revenue projections, Hofman said the Hayden community, including its public school system, could receive $5 million a year.
Hofman also said the town would profit from the taxable parts of the projects, which would include a hotel, entertainment venue and food and beverage operations.
Communities in the Yampa Valley would be impacted in different ways by the casino project, Hofman said. He said Steamboat would benefit from increased tourism, which a market study paid for by the Sleeping Giant Group estimated could grow by 15 percent, or 58,000 visitors a year.
Hofman said communities outside of Steamboat, like Hayden and Craig, would benefit from added jobs — he says there could be 1,000 new jobs created by the casino project — and the associated $34.5 million in household incomes.
Thursday’s meeting lasted about two hours, much of which was taken up by a question-and-answer session. Attendees had numerous questions about water and infrastructure improvements for their town. The land where the development would be built is currently annexed into the town of Hayden, although the casino itself would be on sovereign Indian land. The Sleeping Giant Group does not yet have an Indian partner, which would be required for the project to move forward.
There also were questions about the types of jobs that would be created, investment opportunities, social impacts and impacts to the fire and police departments.
“It answered the questions that needed to be answered for the town of Hayden at this point,” resident Rodney McGowen said about the meeting. “It’s the start of the process.”
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