Aside from Las Vegas, a fantasy island built on gambling and tourism, I'm unaware of any U.S. city that has built a casino for any reason other than desperation. Failing Rust Belt cities build casinos. Detroit and Pittsburgh have them. Cleveland and Cincinnati are joining the list. Saginaw and Lansing, Mich., and Rockford, Ill., want to build them.Is that who we are? Or is this an entirely different case?
From my vantage point, we are a city and a state that falls somewhere between the failed Rust Belt and the ascendant West. We are not strapped to a gurney like Cleveland or Detroit, waiting for a transfusion. But neither are we as dynamic or appealing as Seattle or Denver or Austin. If not a transfusion, downtown could use a vitamin pill.
Yes, Minneapolis is weighing the casino Hail Mary. No, it isn't a failing city. What qualifies as a failing city? Is Cleveland really "strapped to a gurney"?
The casino litmus test is strange. Typically, the issue is crushing legacy costs, not downtown vitality. More than just Rust Belt cities are in serious fiscal trouble. Funding public pensions is a national crisis. Pushing for legalized gambling doesn't make Colorado (home to "dynamic or appealing Denver") a failing state.
I know that downtown's retail scene is a faint shadow of its former self and that its share of the metro office market has been slipping. I know that the Convention Center and Target Center could be doing better, and that Block E's big flop has been a disappointment to the rest of the entertainment district.
There's more and it makes urban core Pittsburgh seem better by comparison. The casino wasn't an electric shock for a dead downtown. The city needs revenue.
All Rust Belt cities are failing or dying. That's the dominant narrative for this megaregion. That's why no one from outside this part of the United States will move there. Perception matters, a lot, to migration.