Suffolk Downs community meeting addresses proposed casino project’s concerns

Suffolk Downs COO Chip Tuttle answers questions at the crowded RHS auditorium at the Suffolk Downs Community Meeting last Wednesday. Tuttle addressed residents’ concerns over the proposed casino development project that’s awaiting licensing by the State Gaming Commission. (Advocate photo by Aaron Keebaugh photo)

The Revere High School auditorium was filled to capacity last Wednesday night as residents, city officials, and state legislators met with representatives from Suffolk Downs to begin discussion about the effects the proposed resort-style casino will have on Revere.

The event followed on the heels of Suffolk Downs’s announcement two weeks ago to construct a $1-billion casino resort on the property and offer $40 million in traffic improvement plans throughout Revere.

“This is the first part of broad community meetings; we plan to have more,” Suffolk Downs COO Chip Tuttle said at the meeting’s introduction.

Following Tuttle, State Rep. Kathi-Anne Reinstein added: “It’s been a very transparent and open process regarding the whole endeavor. None of this is a done deal. All of us will have ultimate say on whether this business comes.”

Reflecting on the process, State Senator Anthony Petruccelli said it is “an experience we’ve never had before.”

If the Gaming Commission grants Suffolk Downs a category 1 license and after details of the mitigation packages are revealed to the public, Revere and East Boston will both decide the fate of a casino in city-wide referendum votes.

“Ask questions; stay engaged,” Petruccelli implored the audience Wednesday night. “We need you, the citizens of Revere, to let us know what you’re thinking.”

The exposition of the casino project Wednesday night included the same video and picture presentations that were displayed at the press conference at the track one week earlier. The audience at Revere High reacted positively though with less gusto than the pro-casino crowd who had attended the press event.

The casino project includes renovation of the grandstands to include 200,000 square feet of floor space for table games and slot machines and a 300-room hotel on site. But Tuttle told the audience to expect more in the future: “We’re proposing 300 hotel rooms officially, but we hope to add 150 more later.”

The community meeting provided Tuttle and the other individuals involved with the project to answer questions from the audience and elaborate on what the casino will mean for the citizens of Revere. Among the issues, the casino’s impact on job creation and traffic continue to stand out for Revere residents.

“We have a commitment to hire locally,” Tuttle said in response to a question from one Revere woman. He added that hiring locally can be part of the host community agreement and the union jobs would pay $42,000 per year.

Suffolk Downs officials have repeatedly stated the role that workers have played in the track’s history and that they will play in the new casino resort. “I felt a deep connection with the workers,” the largest share holder of Suffolk Downs, Richard Fields, said of his early experience at the track. “[They] kept Suffolk Downs alive for all these years.”

The construction of the resort and renovation of the grandstands will begin at the same time, Tuttle said, adding that the casino may open in phases. The construction jobs that will result from such a project may last two to three years “if the market bears out,” Tuttle said, answering a question from Bob Silver, a Beachmont resident, about the length of time those jobs will last.

As for the jobs to be added at the proposed casino when it opens, Tuttle said that Suffolk Downs will host 4,000 jobs for the duration of the license, which, if granted, runs for fifteen years. “We have to set the standard for Massachusetts,” he stated about the project and the potential job creation.

Tuttle added that the casino will also allow local food businesses to compete for space in the food courts that are part of the development. In addition, local suppliers and businesses in goods and service industries will benefit from the resort’s presence.

Tuttle also lead the audience through the proposed major traffic improvement plans in Revere and East Boston (should the casino project move forward).

David Black, Senior Project Advisor for Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc., a Boston-based transportation consulting firm working with Suffolk Downs on the transportation development, told the audience that “we will try to take a bite out of these regional issues.” Among them, the plans involve improvements to the exit from Route 1 to Route 16, which, Black stated, “will shift more cars (away) from Bell Circle.” Presently, drivers avoid the problematic Route-1-Route-16 exit and, instead, travel through the city along routes 60 and 1A, Black said.

Black went on to say that the improvement plans include putting pedestrian signals on Winthrop Ave. Doing so, he added, is “a public safety issue.”

The traffic improvement plans are based upon studies begun in 2009 of local traffic patterns, population conditions, and examinations of similar locations, Tuttle said. He noted: “I drive the local roads. We all drive them. We know what the issues are… “If we have to do more work, we will… We can go back and take another look.”

Ron Champoux, a member of the Revere Beautification Committee, raised concerns about the complexity of Suffolk Downs’s plans to improve transportation and requested that further meetings address the traffic in the city more specifically, a point to which Tuttle agreed.

“I know what it’s like on Revere Beach during the summer. City events put a choke hold on traffic,” Revere resident Lorraine Hartman said.

Another Revere resident commented: “I think we should get a bigger piece of the pie,” adding that he believed that there will be more traffic from the north traveling to the casino than predicted in the study performed by Suffolk Downs.

Other citizens raised concerns about the high tax and insurance rates for home owners in the city. Mary, a Revere resident, said that tax relief is sorely needed for people in the city.

Tuttle responded: “We’re not posing this process on you. We want to hear from you.”

The $40 million that Suffolk Downs plans to shell out for traffic improvement is additional money that goes beyond the community agreement and, especially, will not come out of any host community agreement, Tuttle said.

George Rotondo, a former city councillor and candidate for mayor, raised a separate point. He inquired whether Revere would be disadvantaged economically due to the development of the casino on the East Boston side of Suffolk Downs.

Tuttle responded that the construction on that side of the property—which he said was only the initial phase of the resort—is due to the fact that 75 percent of the track property lies within Boston city limits. Later phases, he added, will go into Revere. “Barns are not necessarily the seasonal home of the horses,” he said.

Forty-five acres of the property, including one-quarter mile of the track, rests in Revere. Since the proposed casino will maintain horse racing, as well as the stated future development on the north end of Suffolk Downs, Revere is a host community rather than a surrounding community, a position that Tuttle stated and restated over the course of Wednesday night’s meeting.

“Revere is a host community,” he told the audience. “By law that entitles you to certain things,” he continued, adding that Revere will receive a host community agreement and a 6.5 percent share of the Commonwealth’s revenue to come from the development. In addition, the host community agreement will contain jobs and job-training programs, Tuttle said.

News of Revere’s host community status set many minds at ease Wednesday night. (Rumors had spread for days that the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, the licensing organization established under the Gaming Law, was considering Revere as a surrounding community to the planned resort.)

The source for the rumors came from the Gaming Commission itself via an email received by former city councillor George Rotondo, who then shared the information with people around city.

And in response to Boston Mayor Thomas Menino’s remark earlier this month that “the casino is in Boston,” the organization Revere’s Fair Share sprang up to express concerns that Boston would receive the “financial benefits while Revere is left with the liabilities” from the casino, according to its website.

Speaking at the meeting, Nicholas DeLena, spokesman and co-founder of Revere’s Fair Share, asked Tuttle whether he believed Revere and Boston should share the revenue equally.

“We have no firm conclusion,” Tuttle responded, adding that work remains to be done in the application and community agreement processes before any final decisions are made.

But Tuttle offered a rhetorical question of his own: “Should Boston share in the development of Wonderland?” referencing Suffolk Downs’s plans to construct non-gaming enterprises there in the future.

DeLena went on to say that he is only concerned that Revere is getting the short end of the stick. “We’ve heard grand promises before,” he said.

“Not from us,” answered Tuttle.

Following the meeting, DeLena responded in a statement:  “I want to thank Chip Tuttle, Suffolk Downs and the other speakers for bringing their plans to the residents of Revere. As Mr. Tuttle asked tonight, we will continue to keep an open mind as this process moves forward. We believe a casino at Suffolk Downs is a good idea, as long as Revere’s financial needs are met.

It is unfortunate that Phase 1 does not include hotel or retail development on either the Suffolk Downs property or the Wonderland property. It is hard to look towards promised future development without real guarantees. We continue to believe that the mitigation plan must include improvements to Bell Circle and to Route 1 at Copeland Circle. We look forward to their planned transportation-specific community meeting. Revere is a host community and we are thankful to Suffolk Downs for confirming that multiple times tonight. However, we find it strange that Suffolk Downs has not considered a ‘No’ vote by either East Boston or Revere. Residents of this city will be voting on the plan and there are many questions and concerns that remain to be answered and addressed.”

Earlier this week, the Revere Advocate obtained a statement from the Gaming Commission relevant to the issue. It states: “General Laws chapter 23K, section 2, which is part of the law governing expanded gaming in the Commonwealth, defines a ‘host community’ as ‘a municipality in which a gaming establishment is located or in which an applicant has proposed locating a gaming establishment.’ …‘gaming establishment’ is defined in the legislation as ‘the premises approved under a gaming license which includes a gaming area and any other nongaming structure related to the gaming area and may include, but shall not be limited to, hotels, restaurants or other amenities.’ The legislation also provides that racing must continue at any facility holding a live racing license when it receives a casino license. A track for live racing, therefore, would be an essential ingredient of casino license at any facility where live racing takes place.  Finally, the legislation says that ‘if a proposed gaming establishment is situated in 2 or more cities or towns, the applicant shall execute an agreement with each host community, or a joint agreement with both communities, and receive a certified and binding vote on a ballot question at an election held in each host community in favor of such a license.’”

Further: “Under those circumstances, it would appear that both Revere and East Boston would qualify as ‘host communities’ with respect to a Suffolk Downs casino license. The Commission, however, does not now have before it a formal application, site plan or other detailed information about the Suffolk Downs proposal and it has not issued any regulations interpreting the statute or setting out the application procedures. Without those, it cannot make a final determination regarding host community status or any other aspect of any proposal in any community. The Commission is now considering all of the regulations that will be needed to carry out its responsibilities, including the procedures for making final determinations on host community status if asked to do so, and will issue any necessary clarifying regulations as it moves forward. As part of the process of issuing those regulations, the Commission will provide notice to the public and an opportunity to be heard on the regulations’ content.”

Although specific details of the mitigation package will not be made public for another few weeks, money will almost certainly be set aside for increased police presence along traffic corridors to the casino site in order to maintain public safety, according to Tuttle’s statements at the meeting.

Councillor-at-Large Anthony Zambuto, who is working with the Rizzo administration and other city officials on the mitigation plan, said: “It will be a broader package than that. Every priority of the city will be addressed in some way… It covers the city’s needs and future needs. We’re going to get more than Revere’s fair share.”

  • http://middlebororemembers.blogspot.com/ MiddleboroRemembers

    Senator Petrucelli commissioned an infrastructure report indicating the cost would be $420 million to Massachusetts taxpayers.

    Big Dig anyone?

    When asked for that report, the Senator ignored the request, then concocted various versions, such as ‘it wasn’t really a report, just a back-of-the-napkin kinda thing.’ It would seem that Senator Petrucelli spent Massachusetts taxpayers hard-earned dollars and is hiding something.

    This is the same Senator Petrucelli who didn’t remember that he didn’t graduate from college as he claimed and was forced to retract the claim when it was disproved by others.

    Senator Petrucelli and Mayor Tom Menino received charitable contributions from Richard Fields. Those ‘charities’ successfully avoid public scrutiny and avoid campaign contribution limits. What else don’t you know about this Dynamic Duo?

    Rep. Reinstein conducted her own closed door meetings that excluded the public and the media, disrupted a meeting at the State House because she refused to hear the facts.

    The Gaming Commission will adopt a 2-step approval process that is detailed on their web site at mass.gov/gaming. The first phase of that process will include reviewing the financial and background information of the applicants.

    Maybe this paper should consider that Caesars is $20 BILLION [not million] in debt and not making a profit. Spectrum, in Ohio, commented that the financial condition required monitoring.

    Richard Fields was unable to raise the financing to purchase Trump’s Marina at a bargain basement price.

    This is nothing more than a Slot Barn using the dying horse racing industry as an excuse. The job projections are grossly overstated as anyone can easily disprove.