Legal gambling could be a return to prominence for forgotten corridor of Columbus
By Travis HoewischerPublished October 1, 2012
On the main floor of the Hollywood Casino, “team members,” construction workers, and keen-eyed inspectors blend and blur at the pace of a time-lapse video.
Still weeks away from opening Columbus’ first casino, the massive Georgesville Road structure is buzzing, alive with the same electricity that promises to course through the casino’s October 8th unveiling.
And it’s not just the promise of progressive jackpots, hard sevens, and comped steak dinners – Penn National Gaming, the company fronting the already operational Toledo Hollywood, and their whirlwind development has injected a new dose of hope into the West Side.
Landon Wieging, 24, grew up just a few miles south of the large grain silos that now serve as not only a border for the casino property, but a landmark for the transition between Broad St. then and Broad St. now. Two years ago, he hardly would have imagined training to take the floor as a full-time casino dealer across the street from the Boston Market where he held down his first job.
In fact, he hoped there wouldn’t be an opportunity to. He initially voted against the state issue to move the facility from its original mandated Arena District location.
“I wasn’t vehemently opposed to it, I was just wary. My whole family was skeptical,” he said. “Within a few days of the casino being approved and I realized this was gonna be a reality, I started looking more into it to see the positives – and they far outweigh the negatives.”
In the last year, Wieging says there has been an improving energy in the area that reminds of him of his younger years, when his parents took him to a then-healthy Westland Mall.
“Things are already starting to be re-built, and business are coming back,” he said, including the newly renovated Hillcrest Bowling Lanes where he hung out as a teenager. “Obviously, I think it’s gonna keep growing. In 10 years, I think [the area] will be completely revitalized.”
Hollywood General Manager Ameet Patel is thrilled that the casino landed on the strip of land at 200 Georgesville Road, equal benefits of comfort for the casino’s customers, the neighborhood’s residents, and the prospect for expansion.
“People aren’t just seeing this being re-built and new. Now there are more convenient stops … for anything from gas stations to food options to retail,” he said. “That promotes more big boxes to look at coming here, for them to say, ‘Let’s put a Target here,’ or ‘Let’s put another mall here.’ It’s long-term, but we’re already seeing signs that everyone is saying, ‘If we’re gonna have 10,000 people a day [in the area], I might as well beef up my store.’”
In the first of what Patel describes as ongoing commitment to the neighboring community, the casino is donating 100 percent of its proceeds from its first day to a series of long-standing central Ohio charities, including the Buckeye Ranch and the Mid-Ohio Food Bank.
But perhaps the most immediate impact for the West Side are the jobs coming to the area, a diminishing facet of West Side living during the past 5-10 years. Hollywood estimates that nearly 25 percent of the casino’s workers on opening day are local residents.
“You’d be surprised at what kind of talent we’ve been able to find out here,” he said. “Some people who have been living here for many years have generational equity here on the West Side. They’ve been going outside to work, in Westerville and Marysville and now they’re saying, ‘You know what, I can work here.’”