NEW: Worcester Council Open to Casino Proposals
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
A Measured Response
News of Cambridge-based developer Richard Friedman's interest in building a hotel and slots parlor in the heart of Worcester met with a staid response at Tuesday night's City Council meeting.
"I don't want people swooping in and trying to ruin our vision for Worcester," said City Councilor Frederick Rushton.
Rushton said there is a need for more hotel space in Worcester, but introducing a big box slots operation to the Kelly Square area did not seem to be in line with the vision of economic development the City has been developing over the past 15 years. The Councilor implored City Manager Michael O'Brien to be steadfast in preserving that vision in the course of discussions surrounding any gaming proposals that may be forthcoming.
"We're not looking for a two-star gaming operation in town," said Rushton. "They can go to Reno."
Councilor Joseph O'Brien said he and his fellow councilors should not immediately rule out a gaming parlor in the City but should instead consider any proposals on an individual basis.
"Gaming is coming. It's going to happen in this state," O'Brien said.
District 5 Councilor William Eddy echoed Rushton's desire not to settle for less than a first-class facility in Worcester, adding that the Council has a responsibility to the city's residents to hear and discuss any proposals.
"We're always open to having discussions with developers with strong track records," he said, adding that the Council should be careful about the message it sent to the public in its own discussion of the topic on Tuesday night.
Support Will Hinge on Specifics
That message did not include any unequivocal support for a gaming parlor in Worcester. Councilor Kathleen Toomey said she was willing to listen to proposals, but she would have to hear detailed plans before deciding whether or not to support such a venture. District 1 Councilor Anthony Economou and District 3 Councilor George Russell also said they were open to hearing specific proposals before taking a stance on the issue. Mayor Joseph Petty said he would be open-minded in considering a solid proposal that fits well with the City's economic development plans if such a proposal is received.
"I think casinos are an admission of failure," said Councilor Konstantina Lukes.
Lukes said choosing to locate a casino in a city seems to indicate that there are limited job opportunities in the area and is more of a final option for spurring economic development. For her part, Lukes said she would like to see Worcester's high tech industries flourish rather than a slots parlor in the center of the City.
No Formal Proposals Yet
City Manager O'Brien said several interested parties have approached the City about a possible gaming parlor since the Commonwealth's legislature passed its casino bill last fall. However, none of those parties have come forward with definitive plans.
"We've had cursory conversations at best," O'Brien said.
With a January 15th deadline for proposals and deposits, time is running short, and any interested developer would have to generate a substantive proposal very quickly. While the City's conversations with prospective developers have so far been intermittent and lacking in details, a more productive discussion could be possible once a formal proposal is received.
"In the meantime, it's just fantasy," said O'Brien.
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