At a subdued Boston redevelopment Authority (BRA) meeting regarding Suffolk Downs’ proposed plans to build a $1 billion resort-style casino last Wednesday in East Boston residents raised some concerns since Caesars Entertainment was dropped from the project two weeks ago.
Suffolk Downs and the city are going forward with a referendum vote on Tuesday, November 5 without a gaming partner and the owners of the racetrack were questioned at a Massachusetts Gaming Commission hearing Tuesday.
One of the biggest concerns among residents was with Caesars gone would there be any last minute changes to the proposed project and style of the development. Looking at other areas in the world where Caesars has built urban-style casinos like Windsor, Ontario, the development at Suffolk Downs is strikingly similar to the Caesars brand of casinos throughout the world.
Residents wondered if a new gaming partner would want to change the design to fit their own brand of the casino.
Suffolk Downs COO Chip Tuttle said the challenge for Suffolk Downs now is to not only find a new gaming partner but also one that will agree to the design that Suffolk Downs and Caesars had worked on and submitted to the BRA a few months back.
Tuttle assured residents that any future gaming partner would not only have to agree with the terms of the Host Community Agreement inked with the City of Boston but the overall design of the casino at Suffolk Downs. There was some speculation over whether Caesars or Suffolk Downs owned the design.
However, Charles Baker, an attorney for Suffolk Downs cleared up any confusion at Tuesday’s Gamming Commission hearing and testified Suffolk Downs owns the design and any future gaming partner would sign on to the plans submitted to the BRA.
“We promised the City of Boston minimum benchmarks and we will still meet and exceed those,” said Baker at the hearing. “We are very far along in design and construction drawings and those design and construction drawing are ours, we own them.”
Referring to Caesars being dropped as gaming partner, Baker said that event would not affect the design but added, “I can’t tell you another operator might not want a different sign or fountain but the quality will remain the same.”
Another issue raised by Eastie resident Mike Russo was over the 24 to 26 month construction schedule. Russo feared that construction on the casino property and subsequent construction of the Boardman Street fly-over would prove to be a traffic nightmare for Eastie residents and would add hundreds of construction trucks filled with materials to neighborhood streets.
Tuttle said that the first phase of the plan would be to widen Route 1A to improve traffic flow and make room for construction of the flyover. That phase would also include a renovation of the existing grandstand at Suffolk Downs before construction on the neighboring hotel and casino complex begins. This, Tuttle said, would minimize construction impacts. He also said there will be a comprehensive construction strategy to minimize construction material delivery from disrupting Eastie residents.
Some residents, like No Eastie Casino’s Celeste Myers, called for the public comment period for the proposal be extended until Suffolk Downs finds a new gaming partner.
The public comment period is currently set to close on Tuesday, Nov. 12.
The plans submitted to the BRA is a redevelopment proposed on roughly 161 acres of land, a portion of which is located in Eastie and a portion of which is located in the City of Revere. The proposal consists of approximately 1.8 million square feet of development including two distinct gaming areas, up to 450 guestrooms in two hotels, a multi-purpose meeting/entertainment space, dedicated covered parking, fine dining, and retail space. The Proponent proposes to construct substantial infrastructure improvements on Route 1A in the vicinity of the site as an integral part of the Project. Approximately 5,100 parking spaces are planned for the site. The Proposed Project also involves continued operations at the Suffolk Downs racetrack as well as continued maintenance in the existing horse barn area, including replacement of a number of deteriorated horse barns.
Architects for Suffolk Downs pitch their design for a resort style casino at the racetrack to the Boston redevelopment Authority last Wednesday night.