Last Modified: Friday, September 09, 2016 2:11 PM
Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. agreed to sell its Westlake property last month for about $134 million to an entity of Laguna Development Corp., a subsidiary of the Pueblo of Laguna in New Mexico.
But Laguna wasn’t the only group gunning for the Westlake property. Texas resident David Farrell said he had offered to buy the property on numerous occasions prior to the Aug. 22 agreement with Laguna. Farrell said he had drawn up a community impact plan, built a team of experts and local people, secured sufficient funding, and offered to negotiate price and purchase conditions with Isle of Capri.
“I followed every protocol that they asked me to follow,” Farrell said.
He said he had a vision for revitalizing the community by rebranding the property and contributing to local projects. He said he has owned his own consulting company, First Mile Enterprises, for 38 years and been involved in numerous improvement projects in Lake Charles, especially after the 2005 hurricanes when he helped repair homes. He said purchasing Isle of Capri would have been a great opportunity to improve the area, and that he put a lot of time and energy into building a solid plan.
“I spent months and months laying out detailed plans to try and impact that community,” he said. He said his team included three former McNeese football players and the general manager and senior vice president of Kentucky Downs Race Track, Nick Hughes.
Farrell said he was surprised and disappointed to hear that Isle of Capri had made a deal with another party. He said he wished the company would have given him a chance to counter before making a purchase agreement. Isle of Capri did not respond to requests for comment.
Emails between Farrell’s lawyer and an Isle of Capri executive obtained by the American Press verify Farrell’s claim that he notified Isle of Capri in December 2015 of his intention to buy the property after having secured financial backing.
Emails in April, May and June reiterated Farrell’s purchase offer and listed two potential price points. But Isle of Capri responded in April and May that it wasn’t interested in pursuing the matter.
Farrell made another purchase offer the morning of Aug. 22 once he found out Isle had agreed to sell to Laguna, according to the emails. He offered to buy the property for $140 million, which is $5 million more than Laguna’s offer. The email, sent by Farrell’s lawyer, said that Farrell and his team would have increased their offer if they had known that another deal was on the table. The email said Farrell and his team were still willing to buy the property if the purchase agreement with Laguna fell through.
Farrell also sent the Louisiana Gaming Control Board a copy of his complete proposal, which the board said it received.
According to the proposal, Farrell planned to build a new casino barge, renovate the hotel, rebuild the casino theater, and add shops and restaurants to the property. The proposal also said he planned to restore the USS Orleck and dock it at the casino, build an adjacent museum, and build a clubhouse for the Westlake golf course, among other community projects.
“This really was a detailed, laid-out plan for the whole community that I thought would impact the area tremendously,” Farrell said. He said he also planned to build a new police station, give money to McNeese State University, and bring more money into the city of Westlake, either through a stipend or a tax.
Farrell said he talked with local people about his plans for the property and the community on numerous occasions over the past two years. Westlake Mayor Bob Hardey said he talked with Farrell and his financial representative about a year and half ago. Hardey said Farrell approached city officials multiple times.
“I like what he said,” Hardey said. Although he didn’t know details about Farrell’s plan, Hardey said what Farrell told him he would do for the area sounded “wonderful.”
Ron Williams, executive director at the USS Orleck Naval Museum, said he also talked to Farrell. Williams said Farrell proposed to dock the Orleck at the Isle’s property and build a new museum. He said Farrell seemed sincere and forthcoming.
Williams said he was grateful that Farrell took such an interest in preserving the ship. He said the Orleck has struggled in the past and that Farrell’s plan would have helped it reach financial stability.
Williams said Isle of Capri has been generous with donations and support in years past and that, however it turns out, he hopes the Orleck can build a “good relationship with the new owners.”
District 14 Police Juror Hal McMillin said he also met with Farrell. McMillin described Farrell as “tenacious” and a “very likable guy” and said he was impressed by how Farrell’s plan would affect the community.
McMillin recently met with representatives from Laguna as well and described them as “really wonderful people”and said they seemed “sincere and excited” about buying the property. But McMillin said that if Laguna gets approval from the Gaming Control Board, he hopes it takes a cue from Farrell and “does something similar for the community.”
Gaming Control Board chairman Ronnie Jones said the board received a proposal letter from Farrell after the Aug. 22 agreement with Laguna, but that it isn’t the board’s place to interfere in purchase negotiations. He said the board’s job is solely to determine if the buyer is ethically suitable and financially viable.
Laguna and Isle of Capri are legally bound under conditions of the purchase agreement — they can’t opt out without consequence. But the agreement may be broken by mutual consent or if one party doesn’t fulfill obligations by closing.
Farrell said that whatever happens, he’s thankful for the people he met along the way and for the continued support of the Lake Charles community, even after the agreement with Laguna was announced.
“I’ve been overwhelmed and very appreciative of the support that I’ve received,” Farrell said. But he said the community is still entitled to know his side of the story.
“It’s time the community knew what happened,” said Farrell.