Suffolk Casino Developer: We Will Help Improve North Shore Traffic
The resort-style casino proposed for Suffolk Downs will include traffic improvements for North Shore travelers headed to and from Logan Airport, the developer told North Shore tourism leaders last week.
The planned resort-style casino for Suffolk Downs will come with improvements that will help North Shore residents more easily get to and from Logan Airport, the project developer told hundreds of tourism leaders from the North Shore last week.
Salem native and resident Chip Tuttle, Suffolk's chief operating officer, made those comments and answered questions about the proposal during a keynote address at the North of Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau's 6th Annual Tourism Summit at the Peabody Marriott.
Tuttle, a former trustee of the House of Seven Gables in Salem, was speaking to the group through the lens of a North Shore resident.
“I’m from Salem – born and raised,” he said.
Tuttle said Suffolk plans a “world-class destination resort casino” that would include live horse racing, a hotel, restaurant and retail space on the 163 acre site off Route 1A that straddles the East Boston and Revere city lines.
Currently, the property hosts events with top attendance of 10,000 to 18,000 people, but has an occupancy permit for 38,000.
“Back in the 40s and 50s that many people showed up for the races,” he said.
While the only remaining thoroughbred track in New England has a stop on the MBTA's blue line, improvements would be needed to the road infrastructure in the area to accommodate the increased traffic that would be drawn to the facility.
The proposal casino could also connect visitors to the 85-mile long Essex Coastal Scenic Byway.
“It’s really a great project,” Tuttle said about the byway. “I’m sure we can find a way to get behind it.”
The byway starts in Lynn and runs to Newburyport. It could instead begin at Suffolk Downs, said Rinus Oosthoek, Executive Director of the Salem Chamber and the tourism summit’s chairman.
“Just get on that road and visit all attractions,” Oosthoek said.
The casino bill passed by the Legislature last year and signed into law by Gov. Deval Patrick sets up a licensing system to allow up to three resort-style casino – one in each of three separate regions in the state. The Suffolk proposal – which is preliminary and is not a formal application right now – would be for the district that consists of Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, Suffolk and Worcester counties. It would also go up against a proposal for a similar project in Foxborough, across the street from Gillette Stadium.
“We are going to have to earn the license,” Tuttle said. “We don’t take anything for granted.”
The casino bill, he said, earned a lot of support is large part because of the hope that it would help jumpstart the economy. In all, the casino projects are expected to create 13,000 “direct jobs” with typical pay from $35,000 to $50,000 annually. Most jobs would not require a college degree, he said.
“We need jobs (in Massachusetts) for a section of the economy that are not necessarily going to work in the biotech field,” he said.
In addition, the projects would create 9,000 “direct" construction jobs, Tuttle said.
Tuttle was asked about the opposition to the Foxborough proposal from town residents there and wondered what kind of support there is for the Suffolk proposal from the track's neighbors.
There is “strong support” from East Boston and Revere resident, Tuttle said, “because gambling has been occurring on the property for 77 years." Plus, the existing casino proposal was first presented publicly in 2007 and there was discussion about installing video gambling machines for 13 years before that, he said.
The state casino law also calls for the creation of one slot machine parlor. Tuttle said Suffolk Downs is not interested in that permit.
In addition to the scenic byway, Tuttle also addressed other concerns about the impact on traffic. Tuttle said Suffolk Downs has a traffic engineer on staff and has conducted two traffic studies already based on the proposed development.
He said Suffolk Downs would spend more money than is required to address traffic issues around the track. For North Shore travels headed to Logan Airport, the most common route is Route 1 to Route 60 or Route 16, eventually connecting to Route 1A and traveling right past one of the track’s two entrances.
“We’ll be as vested as any anybody to make sure people get to and from the facility easily,” he said.
He’s “painfully aware” of the substandard condition of the roads north of Logan Airport.
“The Big Dig stopped at the airport,” he said. “The existing conditions from there and up the North Shore need to be dealt with.”
The project, too, “should grow the tourism and hospitality sector” all along the North Shore, he said.
Tuttle said Suffolk officials do not plan to build a lot of hotel rooms, for example, with consideration for the many existing hotels rooms in the area.
“Your affect on the local economy is not necessarily where you build but what you build,” he said.
The Suffolk Downs project still has many major hurdles to overcome – it will have to pass ballot questions in East Boston and Revere and the track will have to reach mitigation agreement with both cities, too.
And a complete state Gaming Commission hasn’t be named yet. That won’t happen until March 21 and at some point after that it will begin accepting application for the three resort-style casinos.
“We’d like to be ready to go when they are ready for us,” he said. “There’s a lot of detail work to be done.”