A group of citizens in Osaka wants their voices heard as the prefecture is applying to the central government to host the country’s first Integrated Resort project. Not everyone agrees, though, with a proactive group of citizens stating loud and clear that they would not back the measure and seeking to initiate a referendum on the matter.
Referendum Wanted – No Referendum Likely to Happen
Their chances of success are slim at best, but nevertheless, the initiators have managed to collect 157,000 signatures, which is sufficient to push the matter with City Council and the governor’s office. It would be down to those to honor the request for a prefecture-wide referendum, but it’s unlikely for this request to actually go through.
Citizens have threatened to protest and block the IR’s arrival if their demands are not met. For starters, all signatures need to undergo a close verification process. If they exceed the required 146,000 valid signatures to initiate this process, a referendum may be asked from the governor. Hirofumi Yoshimura has a lot riding on the success of an integrated office, though Osaka has expanded quite a bit of time and effort trying to prepare this measure.
In the meantime, Osaka already dealt with an unsuccessful attempt to launch a referendum in the first place which indicates that citizens, no matter how strongly they feel about the issue, would not be able to make a dent in officials’ plans. While other prefectures and cities have come short of their original goals – with Wakayama and Yokohama dropping out of the race – Osaka has shown resilience.
But citizens are arguing that their voices are not being heard and that the local government is acting high-handedly. This would cost elected officials political credit in future races. The thing is, while integrated resorts have become a hot topic in the context of a global pandemic, they are “too big” to simply back out of. Each project is estimated to cost anything between $10 billion to $12 billion.
Economic Costs and Very Real Concerns
However, pressure to realize the project has been mounting. When the idea of building-integrated resorts was pitched, there was unanimous support for the matter. Things have taken a different direction ever since with many companies that originally planned to invest opting out of the race and local governments folding their own bids as well.
Osaka residents are afraid that the man-made island near Osaka Bay would not be able to host the venue. Some officials seem to share these fears, but the bid has so far received approval from everyone. Citizens, though, argue that the economic benefits that an IR would bring in still would not match the additional financial burden locals would have to carry.
Osaka has doubled down in its attempts to court investors and said that the disputed man-made island of Yumeshima will have its soil liquefaction issues sorted by the local government. This means additional funding would need to make sure that the Yumeshima is fit to host an integrated resort by developers.
But therein lies the apple of discord. Locals would need to pay around JPY79 billion or $622 million to make the island fit for an integrated resort. Osaka seems to think that it’s a price worth paying.