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(NECN: Peter Howe, Boston) - There’s still no picture or detailed plan yet, but some new promises about the $1 billion eastern Massachusetts casino plan that you don’t hear so much about – the one off Interstate 495 in Milford.
Foxwoods Resort Casino CEO Scott Butera said when Foxwoods presents a plan to Milford selectmen early next month, their commitment is that 80 percent of the 200-acre site will remain undeveloped, natural rocky woods, possibly enhanced with new hiking and biking paths.
"We plan to develop something that will be luxurious, but has a scale that fits in to the community and has an architectural style that we think will represent New England well," Butera said at a forum sponsored by Suffolk University’s Sawyer Business School’s Center for Real Estate and the Greater Boston Real Estate Board.
The Foxwoods Milford plan is the third proposal competing for the sole Eastern Massachusetts casino license before the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. The others are Suffolk Downs plan for destination resort casino incorporating expanded horse racing at its track on the East Boston-Revere line, and Las Vegas magnate Steve Wynn’s plan for a waterfront casino-hotel-retail complex on polluted industrial land on the banks of the Mystic River in Everett.
Butera said, "We really are viewing ourselves much more as a New England resort, and you don’t have to be the biggest game in town. It's good to be the nicest," Butera said.
The site Foxwoods plans to develop is a remote parcel along the northbound lanes of I-495, northwest of Route 16, butting up to the Holliston town line, and currently crisscrossed with massive high-voltage interstate electric transmission lines. Butera said Foxwoods is in discussions with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation about building new ramps off I-495 to get access to the site. Butera said the $1 billion development would include 4,725 slot machines, 125 table games, and 350 hotel rooms.
Suffolk Downs enjoys strong support for its plan from Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, but has not yet completed a "host community agreement" with Revere and Boston that will need to be approved by voters.
In Everett, in contrast, Wynn has already signed a pact with Mayor Carlo DeMaria that promises the city $30 million up front, $25 million a year in taxes and other revenues, traffic upgrades that Wynn aides say will make traffic on Routes 16 and 99 better than it is now even after the casino opens, and preferential hiring of Everett residents and vendors.
Brian Murray, a member of the Milford board of selectmen who has served as its public spokesman on casino issues, said he thinks Milford is in a considerably different position than communities like Everett or Springfield that have ardently courted casino developers.
"We’re not salivating for this," Murray said. "Are we interested in it? Yes, and when you're looking at the kind of numbers that are in the host agreement with Everett, the jobs that are being talked about, you listen to it. You have to as an elected official." But he stressed that despite years of discussions, casino developers have yet to come forward with anything like the level of detail town officials will need on issues of traffic, water and sewer impacts, community safety, and more.
While the Milford plan has lagged far behind Everett and Suffolk Downs in public visibility and discussion, it also faces mounting potential competition for gamblers in the I-495 corridor. Earlier this week, casino developers Cordish Companies unveiled plans for turning a Holiday Inn at Route 111 and I-495 in Boxborough into a slots parlor. It’s one of four plans competing for the slots license (which is separate from the up to 3 "destination resort casinos" authorized in eastern, western, and southeastern Massachusetts.) The 4 slots options are now Boxborough, Worcester, Plainville, and Raynham – any one of which would create significant competition within 25 miles or less for a Milford casino.
The Wynn-Everett agreement is set to go to voters there for approval June 25, a critical step in getting the project consideration by state casino regulators.
Evmorphia Stratis, an art teacher in Everett who served as a spokeswoman for Everett residents opposed to the casino, said despite the heavy backing for the project from the mayor and other officials, no one should underestimate opposition in Everett.
"As far as traffic, lower Broadway is a nightmare as it is already. How Steve Wynn is going to come in and solve all the traffic problems, I don't get it," Stratis said. "The quality of life is already bad in Everett and will even get worse."
Stratis also said she’s appalled that Governor Deval L. Patrick and other state leaders opted to approve casino gambling in the first place. Reflecting on a trip to a casino in Connecticut she once made, Stratis said, "What a boring, stupid thing to do with your life: Sit there, pull slots, drink, smoke. All the buses come in, all the people who are addicted, nonstop. Are you kidding me? This is what we're going to bring to Boston?"
Gaming Commission chairman Steve Crosby told forum participants attendees that something commission members quickly determined they will insist in any casino they approve is: "We're looking for a 'Wow! factor.' We're looking for something special. We're looking for something unique."
Taking criteria legislators laid out in the original legalized-gambling legislation, Crosby said the five commissioners have spent many hours working to articulate, and publish on their website, what are elements of a "wow factor" that would lead the commission to decide one proposal was better than others and more deserving of the regional casino license.
Crosby said examples the commission has settled on is that a casino plan should "collaborate with the existing Massachusetts brand" and play up the state’s strengths in innovation, technology, life sciences and finance; merge a destination resort casino with "outward-looking features and strategies" that connect casino visitors and events to existing tourism and leisure venues nearby, and "work with affiliated attractions [to] meet unmet education and leisure needs." Suffolk Downs and Wynn, for example, have both outlined plans to incorporate outposts of local restaurants and shops in a resort casino they would build. Wynn’s described a water taxi service that would connect his casino to Boston and Logan International Airport. Suffolk has outlined how gamblers could use Caesars Entertainment rewards points at many Boston-area restaurants, hotels, and venues. Butera said Foxwoods also wants to support business and community ventures near Milford as it has in Connecticut.
Crosby said a key thing for casino developers – and residents of communities where they are being proposed -- to remember is that no plan will go anywhere without winning voter support in a "host community agreement" referendum. He said he expects the commission to award the slot-parlor license in October of this year, and casino licenses "early next year," although the commission has always specifically noted the law authorizes “up to three” casinos but does not require all three licenses be awarded.
"If a local governing body and/or the people of a local jurisdiction don't want casinos," Crosby said, "they aren't going to get casinos."
With videographer John E. Stuart