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Danvers selectmen get more details on Liberty Tree Mall slots proposal

Posted by Marcia Dick  February 7, 2013 08:23 AM

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Steven A. Rosenberg

Proposed location of slots parlor at the former Sports Authority site at the rear of the Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers.

A representative of PPE Casino Resorts told Danvers selectmen that its proposed slots-only parlor at the Liberty Tree Mall would not require any expansion of the existing property and employ as many as 700 people.

The meetings took place at Danvers Town Hall on Wednesday, and were held with two or less selectmen in the room in order not to violate the state’s Open Meeting Law, which requires a public body to post notices of meetings at least 48 hours in advance. The briefings were led by Jeffrey Snyder, who works for the Cordish Companies, a Baltimore-based real estate and casino company which also owns PPE Casino Resorts.

William Clark Jr., chairman of the Board of Selectmen, voiced his opposition to any slots proposal after hearing Snyder’s pitch.

“I’m jaded by the whole thing,” said Clark, who called it one of the most controversial issues the town has faced in the last 40 years. “I’m not in favor of it. I don’t think it’s a good use for the property, it’s not good for the neighbors, and it would be a major problem for Route 114, 128, and 1.”

Selectman Gardner Trask III said he has needs more information before he decides to endorse or oppose a slots parlor.

“If there’s a compelling argument why Danvers needs it I haven’t heard it yet, but I want to listen to what they have to say,” he said.

This was the first time the five members of Board of Selectmen had a chance to meet with a PPE executive. Previously, the only communication had occurred between Joe Weinberg, Cordish’s managing partner, and Danvers Town Manager Wayne Marquis.

Last month, Weinberg visited Danvers and told Marquis that the company hoped to build a 24-hour, slots-only parlor with 1,250 slot machines at the former Sports Authority in the rear of the Liberty Tree Mall. 

At the time, an expansion of the mall and a parking garage also was envisioned for the property, but last week Snyder told selectmen that the 50,000-square-foot former Sports Authority building would suffice for a gambling hall, and that a new parking garage would not be necessary.

The slots-only plan is one of several proposals floated by 11 companies who are seeking to obtain one of the four gambling licenses that will be awarded by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission in the next year. Last month, in its nonrefundable $400,000 application, PPE did not specify a location or a preference to build a casino or a slots parlor. Three full casino licenses — in Greater Boston area and the southern and western parts of the state – are at stake, along with a slots-only parlor that can be built anywhere in Massachusetts. The state plans to award the slots parlor in the fall, and name the casino developers by February 2014.

Wednesday’s meetings were not open to the public. Weinberg could not be reached for comment. Carmen Gonzales, a Cordish spokeswoman, declined to comment on an application timeline.

Marquis said the company has yet to commit to Danvers as a site, and is considering another location in the state. “I do know they’re not both on the North Shore,” Marquis said.

According to the state’s new gambling law, a slots developer would be required to invest a minimum of $125 million into the project. It would also have to pay a $25 million initial license fee to the state, with 40 percent of the gross gaming revenues allocated to state taxes.

Before any licenses are awarded by the state, gambling companies must reach an agreement with host communities, as well as surrounding cities and towns that would be effected. In addition, voters in host communities have the right to approve or reject any gambling proposal through a referendum.

Selectmen had expected to discuss the proposal at its meeting Tuesday night but decided to wait in order to hear from a casino representative in person. The board now has set a public hearing on the potential slots facility for March 5.

Tuesday night, about 50 people crowded the small selectmen’s quarters seeking details about the slots plan. Many were residents of River Run condominiums, a 127-unit development about a fifth of a mile from the proposed site.

“It will mean more traffic, and there are children in the area and I’m afraid the value of my property would go down. That’s a big consideration,” said Judy Souza, who has lived at River Run for 19 years.

Steven A. Rosenberg can be reached at Follow him on Twitter  @WriteRosenberg.

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