Local Casino Plan Officially Unveiled

Suffolk Downs owner Richard Fields is shown addressing a large crowd of media, local residents, union officials, track employees, horsemen and women as well as residents from surrounding cities and towns as Suffolk Downs rolled out its long awaited plans for a casino at the track.

The casino plan that East Boston residents will soon have the opportunity to vote for or against was unveiled Tuesday by owners of Suffolk Downs.

While dramatically different from plans touted back in 2010, the proposal by Suffolk Downs’ principal owners and Caesar’s Entertainment includes a $1 billion investment to build a 300 room hotel, a 200,000 sq. ft. casino gaming facility, entertainment and nightclub venues, up to 10 restaurants that include fine dining concepts, a buffet, food court and sports bar. According to Suffolk Downs’ owners and Caesar’s the gaming space will have 4,000-5,000 slot machines, 200 table games and a World Series of Poker room and was designed by architect Elkus Manfredi of Boston.

The project includes plans to improve the track’s racing facilities and provide millions of dollars in funding to reduce longstanding transportation concerns and to make improvements on the local road network.

“The process of earning a license requires significant investment and substantial resources and we have worked with our partners at Caesars Entertainment to assemble a best-in-class team as we move toward a second phase of larger public review of our plans to create thousands of jobs and improve the local economy,” said Joe O’Donnell, principal owner of Suffolk Downs.

At the unvieling of the proposed plans, owners said that in the coming days and weeks, the reacetrack will share detailed plans about the development and transportation plans, as well as plans for broader community input on jobs and job training, opportunities for local businesses, public safety programs, regional tourism initiatives and entertainment partnerships.

“This is an economic development initiative that will set the standard for gaming development in Massachusetts and will create thousands of new jobs with real career paths and room for advancement,” said Richard Fields, principal owner of Suffolk Downs.  “And it is built on a foundation of collaboration and partnership — with local residents and community groups; with local businesses; and with Boston’s entertainment, tourism and convention facilities.”

Reaction to the proposal by neighbors present at the unveiling had positive comments of Suffolk Downs and Caesar’s plans.

Diane Ingemi, a lifelong resident of Eastie whose house abuts Suffolk Downs property, said she was thrilled by the design.

“I’ve lived next to Suffolk Downs for the past 18 years and seen that property remain in an idle state,” said Ingemi. “The design looks more like a world-class resort than gaming facilities you would see elsewhere. This is a place you can bring your wife, your mother and go to a great restruant or to a high end shopping area or to see a show and feel that you are in a fabulous place.”

Ingemi, who said she travels to Las Vegas twice a year, commented that the aspect she likes the most is the fact that a vistor to the property could concievable go to Suffolk Downs, shop, eat a restaruant or go see a show without stepping foot into a casino.

“It’s not like the casino in the other parts of country were you have to walk through rooms and rooms of casinos before you get to the restaruants or malls,” she said. “This is going to be a place that gives local residents another option for eating or shopping even if they don’t want to gamble.”

City Councilor Sal LaMattina, who supports a ‘ward-only’ vote on whether or not a casino should come to Eastie, said his initial reaction to the plans that it was not massive gaming facility.

“I thought that I was going to see a huge hotel like Foxwoods and it’s much smaller,” said LaMattina. “I like the greening of the property and their attempt to hide the gas tanks with mature trees and a green roof which I think will benefit the people who live on the hill in Orient Heights. I thought that the plans were attractive.”

However, LaMattina said he still has a lot of questions and concerns.  “Especially how this casino is going to benefit the people who live in East Boston,” said LaMattina. “I still need to see the traffic plans and how they will improve the infrastructure on 1A. This proposal needs to be vetted in the neighborhood and at the end of the process the people of East Boston will have the final voice at the ballot box.”

The architectural renderings also illustrate a potential additional hotel on a future phase of development that may contain up to 150 rooms.

Suffolk Downs has operatied live horse racing and entertainment at the same Eastie site for the past 77 years and established strong working relationships with neighbors, community leaders and nearby businesses, said Suffolk Downs’ Chief Operating Officer Chip Tuttle.

“While we have had a longstanding and ongoing dialogue with the local community, today starts a new phase of that process, so that our neighbors, neighboring businesses and the broader community can have a seat at the table as these plans evolve,” said Tuttle. “One of the benefits of this development will be roadway improvements that the local community has deserved for far too long.”

Gary Loveman of Caesars Entertainment, Suffolk Downs’ gaming management partner for the development, spoke about the advantages of siting a facility in the state’s tourism capital and said he looked forward to using Caesars’ marketing expertise to grow jobs and revenues among area businesses, should Suffolk Downs be selected as a licensee.

“We are proud to join forces with Suffolk Downs to bring the Caesars brand, our management expertise, Total Rewards loyalty program and industry leading best practices to Boston as we develop this world-class destination resort together,” said Loveman said.  “With this project, we are together bringing another world-class attraction to a top tourist destination and are building upon our vision to develop and manage urban casino resorts that serve as engines for job creation and economic expansion in the surrounding communities.”

Attempts were made by the East Boston Times to get comments from the neighborhood’s opposition group, No Eastie Casino, but those messages were not answered by press time.

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