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Council Bluffs/ Omaha: A Booming New Economy?

posted on April 30, 2009 at 2:25 PM

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Council Bluffs is Iowa’s 4th largest city. Add in Omaha Nebraska, it becomes the state’s largest metro area. 

Every community likes to boast of its history.  Council Bluffs is no exception. This city with the bluffs that once held the council meetings between Native Americans and Lewis and Clark has a rich history that also includes the Missouri River and the railroad industry.

Its modern history, though, is being written by riverboat casino gambling.

Three casinos, all within eyesight of each other, are three of the state’s four top gaming revenue producers. They generate almost 400 million dollars a year, and are taxed at a rate of 22 percent.

Ernie Goss/Creighton University: “Of course most of those casino tax collections don't remain in Council Bluffs. Unfortunately they go to Des Moines to be redistributed.” 

Creighton University economics professor Ernie Goss says almost 75% of the patrons to Council Bluffs casinos are from Nebraska.

Ernie Goss: “Of course you got the local option sales tax which -- does remain in Council Bluffs and in Pottawattamie county.”

Retail growth around the casinos has helped further raise local option sales tax numbers, with that extra penny on each dollar staying in the region.

That casino activity is also financing other development.

The non-profit Iowa West Foundation receives money from the Iowa West Racing Association which holds the licenses of the Council Bluffs Casinos.

The foundation has invested more than 200 million dollars into the region since its inception in 1994 and, is also a partial underwriter of tonight’s broadcast.  More recently it has been directing some of its resources toward some very visible civic accoutrements.

Most obvious is its 9 million dollar Iowa West Public Art initiative.

Todd Graham/Iowa West Foundation: “Council Bluffs has a very rich history.  Ah and a very rich -- actually architectural history if you've been to historic downtown area, and um and what we're doing now with -- for instance public art is creating um a new um amenity -- a new cultural amenity. 

Something that will establish a unique sense of space in our community and we think the contemporary art collection is it really is indicative of our optimism about the future at Council Bluffs.”

The downtown has received a number of additions, like these rabbit heads. Streetscape work along with the fountains and sculptures in Bayliss Park also were added.

Another spot was near the city’s latest significant retail expansion, Bass Pro Shop and the adjacent outlets that surround the Mid America Center.

The largest art display is hard to miss, from anywhere--- the interstate, the casino, or the shops along the Council Bluffs’ west side.

Molecule Man stands 50-feet tall.  The 1.8 million dollar sculpture is the creation of an internationally known artist, who has only done four others like it in the world; Los Angeles, London, Berlin and now Council Bluffs.

Todd Graham: “Most of those sites where either sites where you have a lot of visitors or tourists or there are parks that citizens utilize heavily or they're major gateways to our community and this happened to be this area ah was one of the top two areas in the city.  

There's about close to 7 million visitors a year come into this area of city.  So, it's an opportunity if you want to showcase art and create a tourist attraction.  It's a good spot for public art.”

While the public art asserts Council Bluffs new-found wealth,  another new amenity, the Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge, provides functional comment about the potential of the region. The edifice links Council Bluffs and Omaha.

As Professor Goss preaches, if the region can avoid competing against itself, and integrate cooperation into its policies, prosperity is nearly a sure bet.

Ernie Goss: “For an economist that's the most distressing part. For an economist we look at it as the market.  The labor market, the product market, for the overall area and the state line doesn't mean as much for us political sub-divisions for example.

So, for me what I'd like to see for Council Bluffs for Omaha is more collaboration. I'd like to see much more collaboration there, much more of a of a engagement of the two communities and looking at economic development that way because it would be very beneficial for Council Bluffs it'd be very  beneficial for the state of Iowa, Nebraska, and the city of Omaha.”

Tags: Council Bluffs economy gambling Iowa Nebraska Omaha revenue

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