Unions picket Pinnacle project

September 6, 2006
By Theresa Schmidt

On this the eve of Pinnacle's plans to announce a major expansion at L'auberge... Pickets have sprung up next to the Lake Charles casino complex. Representatives of local construction unions were there several hours today protesting proposed Sugarcane Bay-- pickets complain of traffic congestion, use of outside and non-union labor in the past and worries about the effect on downtown Lake Charles development.

Operating Engineer Jason Billings was one of those holding a picket sign.  He says,  "It will hurt the downtown and the traffic in the community and the jobs locally." Sheet metal worker Ty Roberts also participated in the in the protest. "We want to keep the casino where it's at. We already know where Pinnacle stands as far as their stance on organized labor."

Tomorrow afternoon L'auberge is to unveil the details of a $45 million hotel tower expansion project and various amenities separate and apart from Sugarcane Bay.

Also, at their meeting tomorrow Calcasieu Police Jurors will decide whether to ask the Louisiana Gaming Control Board to keep both Pinnacle licenses in Calcasieu Parish. Pinnacle is buying Harrah's Lake Charles assets--regardless of the outcome of the November 7th election, according to a company spokesman.

Some local business people are pushing for the licenses to remain not only in Calcasieu Parish but on the Lake Charles lakefront. When voters go to the polls November 7th, the parishwide vote on Pinnacle deals only with moving one riverboat license berth from the Lake Charles lakefront next to L'auberge for the proposed Sugarcane Bay.

But for many, it's hard to separate that issue from the fate of the second license. Police jurors will consider asking the state gaming board to keep the second license in Calcasieu. Police Juror Brent Clement said at a recent meeting,  "If you move it to Baton Rouge, there will be no new money coming in. That will be Louisiana people spending money in Baton Rouge."

Yet most police jurors in no way oppose Sugarcane Bay or want to do anything to jeopardize it.. Juror Hal McMillin said recently, "I definitely don't want to kill any golden geese, or goose, as we have one."

Last month, Pinnacle president Wade Hundley told the Louisiana Gaming Control board the market cannot bear a second development on the lakefront of the magnitude of Sugarcane Bay. "There's only so much market demand and certainly to make that sort of market investment you can't do it in the face of another competitor coming at the same time that we are."

If the sale of Harrah's Lake Charles assets to Pinnacle does not go through a local group has a secondary offer to Harrah's. Tim Bowling of the Alliance for Local Recovery and Development says they would keep both licenses on the Lake Charles Lakefront. "What we're proposing is two gaming facilities, a total of 60,000 square feet of gaming. One is the Colossus and the other being the Promethean and a 500 room hotel and the family entertainment and boardwalk area with the Montasia and an I-Max theater."

Alliance chairman Chester Jones says their project would help downtown and north Lake Charles prosper. "We're not fighting L'auberge or anybody else. We're simply saying that if given the opportunity, this is what we're going to do. We're going to have an area that's family friendly where people can come off that interstate. We're going to really light up downtown Lake Charles."

As well Alliance officials promise to use local labor and merchants and have signed an agreement with nine local construction unions. Pinnacle has not yet said where it would use the second Harrah's riverboat license. The police jury meets at 5:30 tomorrow evening at the Calcasieu Government Building.