Growth, revenue creation key issues in La Center race

Two of three candidates for Pos. 1 present their ideas

By Adam Littman, Columbian Staff Writer

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The New Phoenix Casino in La Center closed March 26, leaving the city with two cardrooms: the Palace Casino and Last Frontier Casino.

Ilani Casino Resort opened April 24, leaving many wondering how the city will fare financially since cardroom tax revenue makes up a large portion of La Center’s general fund.

It’s a big question facing La Center, and one that candidates for La Center City Council Position No. 1 have on their minds.

“Making up the lost revenue is certainly a priority right now but the big question is how?” Linda Tracy, 70, wrote in an email. “I’m hoping our two remaining cardrooms will stay in business. La Center has been so blessed by their community support for many years and it would be devastating to see them go.”

Doug Boff, 68, also wrote in an email that residents need to support the two other cardrooms in La Center. Still, that’s not the only answer for making up lost revenue.

“La Center must encourage a broad spectrum of businesses to locate here in order to diversify our revenue stream,” wrote Boff, who has been on the city’s planning commission since 2016.

Boff also wrote that the city must explore ways to get people visiting Ilani to stop in La Center to see what the city has to offer.

A potential major way to draw visitors into La Center is the city’s side of the Interstate 5 junction across from the new $510 million casino. The Cowlitz Tribe paid for $32 million in upgrades at the junction, including new offramps, a partial relocation of a few roads and a new freeway overpass. As part of the project, the Cowlitz are paying for development of a sewer line that stretches out to the city limits. The sewer line will allow the city to develop 150 acres of land sitting across Interstate 5 from the casino.

City officials are currently working through possible ideas on how to develop the junction.

“I would like to see some kind of manufacturing there, something that makes a product sold all over the country and employs a lot of people,” wrote Tracy, a La Center city councilor from 2004-2012.

Boff and the rest of the planning commission worked through some options for the junction.

“Our planning commission has submitted to city council a plan that calls for a zone of commercial, office campus, light manufacturing and high-density residential sub-zones,” he wrote. “I am hopeful that city council will approve our recommendation.”

When it comes to growth, both Boff and Tracy said they want to ensure La Center keeps its small-town charm, but for the city to survive, officials need to have a plan for growth.

“We need to grow if we are to maintain our economic viability,” Boff wrote. “This is where proper planning becomes essential.”

Tracy wrote she thinks residents are split pretty evenly on the topic of growth.

“Growth would be good if we could develop all along La Center Road and up to and including the junction,” she wrote. “It’s hard to think about upsetting our small-town feel with some kind of ‘sprawl’ but developing the two miles to the junction would give people reasons to take the exit and come downtown without having (to) overdevelop downtown.”

Boff and Tracy are two of three candidates for Position No. 1, as Heather Birdwell-Currey is not seeking another term. The third candidate, Michael Smith, didn’t return emails to respond for comment for this story.

In the Clark County voters’ pamphlet, he wrote that he believes “keeping the cardrooms at the same tax rate will not make them go away, but it will make this town flourish like it always has. I believe we do need more homes for people to live in this town that everyone can afford.”