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Mayors in the dark on Wood Village casino's future

Dave Fuller stands alone among East County mayors in support of a proposed casino project in Wood Village, but he's not staking the city's future on it.

'We are not depending on this for our survival at this point,' he said.

Fuller is in favor of the plan by two Lake Oswego businessmen to convert the former Multnomah Kennel Club on 223rd Avenue into a complex featuring restaurants, entertainment and casino games. The tax revenue and employment the facility would generate, he says, would outweigh potential problems cited by opponents such as increased traffic, crime and gambling addiction.

Regardless, lack of decisive action on signature gathering for a fall state ballot initiative may make Fuller's stance moot on the $500 million project. Initiative experts say Bruce Studer and Matthew Rossman may be running out of time to gather the 110,358 required signatures to put the measure before voters by the July 3 deadline.

Fuller has heard little definitive information about the casino plans since he last talked to Studer and Rossman in February.

'We were anticipating a meeting a few weeks back, but nothing has come of that,' he said. 'They've really been keeping it pretty close to the vest. The plans they were projecting' in the February meeting 'haven't achieved the intended results.'

'I'm surprised I haven't heard more,' he added. 'As far as I know, it's still moving forward.'

Mayors of neighboring cities, including Shane Bemis of Gresham, Paul Thalhofer of Troutdale and Mike Weatherby of Fairview, have opposed the project from the get-go. Weatherby believes the recent silence, particularly the fact that the financial backers have not come forward, underscores the negative community impact the project could have.

'I sincerely believe if this is something good for the community, than somebody would be standing up and taking credit for it,' he said. 'If you want to remain covert and anonymous, you obviously want to remain unknown. I can't imagine (voters) supporting this venture and not knowing who's behind it.'

Weatherby expressed similar sentiments last year when he fought to give Fairview voters a say in the casino project. In June 2007, an Oregon House committee voted to allow only Wood Village voters a voice in the matter. At the time, Weatherby said it was 'very revealing' that representatives of Rossman and Studer testified against letting residents vote.

'To me it raises a large flag,' he said of the recent air of secrecy. 'Everything that is possibly good for this community is being espoused by people who won't even stand up behind it.'

Agreeing with Fuller that Studer and Rossman are playing it 'very close to the vest,' Weatherby speculates the partners, in terms of statewide support, may not be hearing what they want to hear.

'It would not surprise me if, when it comes to light, that one of the reasons' for not announcing plans and backers' names 'is they're getting feedback that Oregon voters are not interested in opening the state up to private casinos.

'Maybe that's the message they're getting.'

Portland Tribune reporter Steve Law contributed to this story.