By John Lynds
Sterling Suffolk LLC, the owners of Suffolk Downs Racetrack in East Boston has formally requested Massachusetts Gaming Commission to approve the sale of the track, according to Suffolk Downs COO Chip Tuttle.
The Gaming Commission will take up the request at the March 30 meeting.
“There is an old racing law in the state that any racing licensee must first get approval from the commission,” said Tuttle. “The law anticipates the buyer would continue horse racing but that is not the case here.”
Instead, Suffolk Downs’ owners will sell the property to developer HYM and lease the track for the next two years from the buyer.
“We are selling the property and holding on to the license,” said Tuttle. “Sterling Suffolk will continue racing and simulcasting through 2018.”
Tuttle said the community process to develop the 160 acre Suffolk Downs site will most likely be lengthly and Suffolk will continue to race and offer simulcasting until the first shovels are put in the ground for development.
However, if the Mass Gaming Commission does not approve Suffolk’s request, which Tuttle said seems unlikely, Suffolk would be forced to relinquish its racing license.
“We still have 100 employees working here so we are planning to stick around until HYM’s community process is over,” said Tuttle.
Former Boston Redevelopment Authority chief Tom O’Brien leads the Boston-based HYM Investment Group known for being a key player in the development of a 45-acre former rail yard in East Cambridge known as NorthPoint.
If the recent trend in large-scale urban development is any indication of what to be expected at Suffolk Downs, one should look no further than Station Landing in Medford or Assembly Row in Somerville as the benchmarks of this type of development.
However, like the casino proposal years ago, there is almost certainly going to be concerns over traffic and congestion. Suffolk’s failed casino bid ended any hopes of a Bremen Street flyover on McClellan Highway that would dramatically cut down on rush hour traffic traveling both north and south. While the flyover was something the neighborhood has been calling for for decades, the state never had the transportation funding to construct such an ambitious piece of traffic. However, Suffolk’s host community agreement during its bid for a casino included funding the entire flyover project.
It’s far too early to tell if HYM would consider funding a traffic mitigation project of that size if it decides to construct a destination development like Assembly Row.
With that said, Suffolk’s close proximity to the Blue Line makes it an ideal transit orientated project. Those projects rely more on attracting the younger generation of urban dwellers who tend to use other forms of transportation like the MBTA, Uber and Hubway instead of owning a car or two.