Slots Parlor, First Hearing

Here are my notes; there was some livetweeting from Steve Foskett, Kevin Ksen, and Chris Robarge.

Here’s WoMag’s Liveblog.

Meeting called to order at 6:36pm.

Mike Germain is not in attendance.  (Councilors who are: Palmieri, Eddy, Rushton, O’Brien)

I’d estimate about 125-140 people in the room.

City Manager, City Solicitor, City Clerk.  City Councilors Sarai Rivera and Kate Toomey; State Senator Michael Moore; slots lobbyist Dennis Irish; Roberta Schaefer, and numerous city and neighborhood activists.

6:39 – Germain enters.

6:41 – Eddy reminds us that the city does not own the W-G site, and that Richard Freedman first came to the city fourteen years ago.

Former City Councilor Barbara Haller enters.

Rushton tells people that they should really not speak on whether they are for or against the slots parlor, or how people should vote, just talk about the host agreement.

6:47 – City Manager discussed his memo.

Councilor Lukes enters the room.

CM – “At this juncture, we’ve had ongoing conversations with the developer” (both casino and hotel).  They have provided schematics, access would be from I-290 through Kelley Square.

They expect it to be large and have other uses (restaurants, entertainments) – 1200 to 2000 cars for parking, still too early to tell; they would probably want 24 hour operation.

Palmieri – countless discussions over time.  Question to CM: in his general knowledge of this project, what would the investment $$ be, how many jobs, comparison of tax revenue?

CM: Legislature said minimum investment for category 2 (slots) is $150million; hotel and casino might be $240 million in this case.

For permanent jobs, he has heard in excess of 500 to 600 permanent jobs.  Above and beyond construction of the facility.

For comparison of tax revenue, it is reasonable to assume that taxes generated would be in millions of dollars, include hotel/motel taxes.

Russell: is there any real plan available to show the public?

CM: it was a first generation colored schematic.

Russell: on agenda items D, E, F: asking for input of police chief, health commissioner, commissioner of public works, not able to give us additional feedback.

CM: As we get more specific information from developers, will engage entire administration in this process.

Russell: Didn’t we already take the vote about whether this was a city or district vote?

City Solicitor – it will be a citywide referendum, voted on Dec 18.

Rushton: this is going to happen primarily in Green Island, this is why we are having the meeting here.  When we are talking about the primary impact of host agreement, it will be on Green Island.

If they do not negotiate a fair agreement, the state Gaming Commission will do so.

Lee Vuona, LWV – they are opposed to gambling, they oppose a slot parlor in downtown Worcester.  Accepting addiction rates in exchange for money.  Slots most addictive gambling habit.  Encourages gamblers to play until they run out of money.  Frankly, our most disconcerting discovery was that state and local officials become addicted to gambling —  once one casino or parlor to open, need to establish more operations to access easy money.  Don’t want to see slippery slope here.

Vuona, continued – 450 jobs – every one of Rush Gaming’s jobs – part-time, no-benefits, go nowhere jobs.  Planting down big box with no windows will further divide sections of this city.  Energy and water use, disposal use, etc.

Economou is here as well.

Lorraine Laurie, Green Island Residents Group, Inc. – This is not our first choice – they want a bank, a pharmacy, etc.  The slots parlor will go in the island.  If the voters want a slots parlor, and it passes gaming commission, it will need to benefit the island.  The island needs to collect.  They want a bank.  Other parks got benefit of CSX money; they want Crompton Park master plan to go into implementation, they want more foot patrols.  They want streetscaping to make it more attractive.  Quinsig Ave needs to be finished.  They want Kelley Square redesigned.  Fire on Suffield Street, Providence Street station is closed, we have to do something with Kelley Square no matter what.

Margarita Okendo – Expresses concern as 40-year resident, mother, grandmother, and Christian.  Addiction to gambling, repercussions it brings.  Addiction results in so many other things.  “Corruption will eventually seize our city.”

Victor Ortiz, MA Council of Compulsive Gambling – we cannot deny problem gambling whether you are for or against slots parlors.  One out of 5 pathological gamblers attempts suicide.  He asks city councilors – opportunity for economic development – talk about issue of problem gambling.  He oversees helpline – there are zero resources for problem gamblers in this city now.  Nearest location is in Fitchburg.  The City of Worcester has highest rate of pathological gambling in the state.

We need a work development plan for current system providers who are trained about problem gambling.  We need a gambling treatment site: comprehensive to work with individuals impacted by gambling.

Art Shea – runs a small business in allied health field, has been here 11 years.  There is a reason you have to pass laws to allow gambling.  Historically, people have viewed it as a bad thing.  This is like proposals to build a mall in this city.  This is like the mall, but worse.  By the sounds of it, how will this bring people to downtown when there’s easy on/off access from the highway?  Does this possible development help image of schools?  Would this attract future students?  “We citizens in this democracy are watching you” – (speaking to city councilors)

Jeannie Shea – works in early intervention.  Most problematic area to understand in the city is Kelley Square “and all those convoluted streets.”  Does not see any benefit to the city to bring slot parlors here.  Finally trying to redevelop a long-term plan, allow them to redevelop.  Feels this would drive people away from the community, herself included.

Mullen Sawyer, for Oak Hill CDC – would like a shopping list.  Our city manager showed his merit for negotiating CSX agreement.  “He has my faith,” and support, he will do exceptional job negotiating this agreement.  Would like business district in between hotel and slots parlor.

John Reed – Shows his enthusiastic support for project.  Brownfield to greenfield – for an area that would otherwise not be redeveloped.  You’d be able to fix multitude of problems.  Could have green roof on top of casino.  Beautification program –  new economic model.  Shared risk/shared profit program.

Kate O’Neil , lives in Boston, Unite Here (Casinos union, also textiles and laundries) – city should get a full understanding of Bluhm’s company.  They have run aggressive anti-union campaigns at Sugarhouse in Philly, and Rivers in Pittsburgh.  They have hired anti-union consultants to hold forced meetings.  She is very good and very persuasive.

Kent Bailey – this is something that is going to be ongoing, 10 year plan.  If we do have to take the slots, that direct area of the island needs to be addressed, long-term.  Public safety in that area is already a concern, it’s going to be a very difficult thing to mitigate.

Barbara Roberts, owns property that spills over into Worcester – she is a long-time airforce wife.  Has seen Atlantic City go down.  This will change Worcester into a sleazy place.  Definitely not good for the community.  Knows there is a gambler in this room who borrowed money from people in a coffee shop, dodges them because they can’t pay him back.  Don’t destroy this beautiful community with sleaziness.  The investor will not live in this neighborhood.

John Giangregorio – They want to focus on the mitigation money.  He’s president of the Canal District Alliance.  He thinks people are open-minded and want to see what the mitigation monies will be.  Flattering that they want to come into the Canal District.  Concerned that this will be a destination where people will be “buried” in the parlor.

Canal Re-creation – $20-30 million.  Thinks a Canal Community Fund should be created, Crompton Park Master Plan should be done.

Their vision is to create a destination neighborhood, and this could be part of it with a re-created canal.

Jo Hart – there’s nothing high-class about gambling/slots.  The idea of 12 million cars is unthinkable.  What kind of city is this going to be?  There’s a railroad that goes right through it – you can restore passenger rail to Providence and Hartford.  Don’t just simply slap something here in the worst kind of setting.

Very upset at secret meetings that Rivera and Palmieri have had.  Resents neighborhood meetings, wants meetings at City Hall that are televised.  Don’t be divisive.

Mitigation, like CSX, should not just be for what DPW can not or will not do.

Eddy – respectfully, Rivera and Palmieri have had neighborhood meetings, not secret meetings.

Alejandra Duarte – represents workers from United Here, lived in Worcester from 2000-2011, speaking here as a worker.  There should be language that secures rights of workers to have living wages, right to organize, etc.

[The a/c has finally turned on, thank goodness]

7:39pm

Colin Novick – Effort to put together agreement in time for June 25 election; can’t be done without doubling up electoral staff.

This will negatively impact attractiveness of national and international companies to come here, for new residents.  It’s going to be a self-contained unit.  The only thing we’re going to get is out of this package.

There are no impacts that we will have that will be positive.

Even big-ticket items will not offset negative community impacts.

Not all jobs are created equal, not all employers.

Nicole Apostola spoke.  I have no idea what she said.

Rick Rushton – we’re getting sidetracked.  We’re here to tlak about what can go in the host agreement.  Stay focused on that.

Roberta Schaefer – thanks everyone for coming here tonight.  From what she has heard, no longer feels alone in this effort.  A slot parlor is not a destination casino, the majority of people coming from less than 30 minutes away.  Slot parlor incompatible with

Bill Eddy interrupts her.  Says they are not going to accept any more of this testimony.

Roberta tells him to stuff it, essentially.  Much applause from the audience.

The city council is asking for comment on a proposal that the city manager says he has not seen, and why are they asking the public for comment on a non-existent proposal?

If a high-end hotel requires such a subsidy (of slots), then is it really sustainable?

7:48  – Mayor is finally here

Eddy has banged the gavel.  Roberta keeps going.

Eddy gets really ticked off, Roberta is on fire.

Eddy – There is no set date for June 25.  There is no rush, if there is a host agreement that has been properly vetted then they will consider it.

Rushton – lot of passion in this room, he doesn’t want people out of here thinking that the CC has more power than the voters to.  Tell your neighbors your concerns.

Ed Moynihan – “I have tried to contact you all and I have not heard much reseponse”.  How do you mitigate urban blight when people who would be spending money on various local businesses getting food and booze in a slots parlor?  How do you mitigate the sorrow of a child who loses a father or mother to suicide?  Ed is on fire.

How do you mitigate the civic corruption of our life?  There’s only one way to mitigate this – to instruct the CM to say no to Mr. Bluhm, do not let them force a slot parlor down our throat like a goose being force fed to the slaughter.

We could look at family-friendly jobs that ennoble and enrich all of us and not just a few folks from Chicago.

Kathleen Pagano – not what should go into the host agreement, do promises of low-income jobs and tax revenue mitigate negative elements.  Why should we fund schools, parks, etc., with something that encourages addiction.  People get into desperate situations when they come into addiction.  Let’s not take a step backwards for the prospect of a quick buck.  This is not economic development, this is blood money.  Worcester deserves better.

27 more people to go.

Paul Franco – His concern is what type of risk are we taking as a city with this development.  Place risk with private developers – last thing he wants to see is for us to finance a private business, doesn’t want to bail it out in five years when it fails.   The city shouldn’t be picking winners and losers – don’t saddle us with a failed investment.

Rushton – all of the costs of this are borne by the developers themselves.

Michael Perotto – believes that this is a good thing for the city of Worcester.  600 jobs, $5-6 million in tax revenue, mitigation is good for Green Island.  Public safety mitigation money.  And improve education.

Allen Fletcher – does not want to address moral or taste issues.  Casinos are designed to be internally focused, self-contained, just like the mall we all fell in love with and spent a vast amount of money tearing down.  Three blocks from the old strip in Las Vegas, it’s horrific.  Atlantic City is a pathetic husk, it would be comical except it’s so tragic.  There is no spin-off because people are not allowed out of the casino.  For the mitigation agreement, do not allow restaurants in the slots parlor.  That could be a genuine benefit to the Canal District.  If you do not allow restaurants in the slots parlor, they will go out.

8:05 – Peter Schneider – agrees with all the previous speakers.  Concerned about Rush Gaming’s being fined; can’t be 100% prevented.  There will be addictive gamblers, underaged gamblers, can’t do anything about this.   Personal experience: has seen the inside of slots parlors, you really see addictive behaviors there.  Mitigation: explicit, zero-tolerance for not following rules.  Very severe fines.

Dante Comparetto – Economic Development 101 teaches that you build on embracing historical heritage, creating cultural destinations, redeveloping old mill buildings.  A casino does not fit into this approach.  There are not too many studies that show the benefits of casinos.

Bill Breault – we’ve been battling prostitution in the Main South corridor. EMS, police, fire – where does this come into it?  Prostitution in the Providence Street area.  If it’s not going to be tolerated in a slots parlor, it should not be tolerated in Main South.

Deb Cary – she thinks there should be an indoor/outdoor sports complex at W-G.  Perhaps even something like the High Line.  Invest in health, recreation, and fun.  Slots casino will decrease property values and increase crime.

Jay Foley – when you google the principals behind the project, they have a very mixed reputation.  They need to put down a deposit for the demo costs, in case it turns out to be a white elephant.  Have them stop hiring lobbyists.  How about clocks, no restrooms, and no liquor license.

Steve Gordon – In his view, the only mitigation is to pull the plug on this plan.  The people who have going to be negotiating are more sophisticated, can litigate us into oblivion, it’s a pure money-grab for them.  Just look at Twin Rivers.  They have had nothing but economic problems, asked RI for relief, have not provided any benefit to the state or the area.  Nickel slots – put money in, push a button. What will this do for the image of the city?  Worcester: city of colleges, or city of slots?

Clarence Burley, lives in Paxton, but worked in Worcester his whole career, member of Worcester Friends Meeting – historically, Quakers felt it was wrong to gain from someone else’s loss.

Mesfin Beshir – main concern is crime.  Nowadays, bullets are everywhere in that district.  If it goes through, we need Navy SEALs in that neighborhood.  Police even now are not handling the situation.

Eddy condescends to Beshir, says that our crime rate is lower.

Beshir: my office was shot.

Sue Moynagh – if this comes to fruition, she wants to see benefits for residents and businesses in this area.  How about having partnerships with suppliers?  Make sure that the jobs are focused on this neighborhood.  We need sustainable jobs that pay a living wage.  We need a bank that has tellers.  A lot of us don’t have transportation.  Traffic.  Mentions Suffield Street fire.

Dave Kenny – he’s not for or against, he’s for 500 jobs in Worcester as long as they are for Worcester residents, equal pay, equal rights, union based.  He works for a union company now, and thanks to the union they have good pay, good rights.  Wants developer to let the union in.

8:26 – Kate Fitzpatrick – seems like first public forum where people are able to express their feelings about this.  To help Mr. O’Brien in mitigation – environmental proposals (green roofs, LEED), funding social services in proportional rate at very long term.  Traffic and prostitution issues.  Personal liability on Bluhm, Friedman, etc.  For City Council – can they enact a living wage ordinance?

Sarah Loy – is strongly opposed to legalized gambling in Worcester.  If fellow Worcesterites vote for it, should be annual sizable charitable giving for social services agencies.  Include homeless services, environmental organizations, legal services.  City administration should give us a report, analysis of the most successful strategies for implementing this.

8:31pm – Eddy – next meeting: anticipate that they will hear from Chief Gemme, Derek Brindisi, etc., about their research and discussions with colleagues in other cities.

Noel Williamson, Pleasant Street Baptist Church – this whole thing concerns him.  He has people who knock on parsonage door who say they have scratched their rent money away.  If the city passes it, there should be resources so that people are not out on the street.

Maura Pinish (I can’t spell her last name) – she is opposed.  Would like to see allocations for what would happen with revenue: education, Crompton, gambling treatment center.

Joseph Zwirblier (spelling) – access road divided community, charming character of Kelley Square must be preserved.  Theater District should not become an island, link the Theater District to Kelley Square, mitigation money for youth groups should be considered.

Paula Courtney – husband and her formerly owned manufacturing concern for 50 years.  Would like to see industry come back.  We had to pay a livable wage, and pay for people’s medical expenses, we had to obey the laws.  Concerned about addiction, Father John Madden is concerned about addiction, and he’s working with people who are drug and alcohol addicted, as well as gambling.  Concerned about prostitution and drugs.  All these things need to be mitigated and discussed and thought out thoroughly.  Very good thing that it will be put on a referendum.

Harry Kokkinis – Table Talk Pies – they have concerns about transportation.  Not just a question of Kelley Square – it’s called Green Island because it’s separated from the rest of the community.  Transportation is critical.  Real loss when Quinsigamond Ave entrance to 290 was closed.  Concerns about crime.  They talk about the property and it’s environmental liability.  Any agreement has to include this.

Jeff Muradian (sorry, couldn’t catch the last name) – Canal District Business Association – wants this to go to a neighborhood fund, recreation of Blackstone Canal on Harding Street.  Doesn’t see anyone going to a slots parlor who will visit their neighborhood businesses.  Only way to do it is to create destination – something else to do in the city/neighborhood.  $300 million over 30 years invested in the neighborhood.  CM asked if he was aware of 2003 study

City Manager responds.  Yes.

Sarai Rivera – Economic benefits – she has heard about banks, pharmacy, parks, streetscaping.  Green Island has been historically forgotten.  Want to be able to look at fair, living wages.  We should have conversations with union organizations.  Want to be able to support smaller, non-profits for workforce development.  Small, local, general contracting businesses should be used in the construction.  Look at schools, youth employment, possibility of scholarship programs for local students.  Limited or no restaurants in the facility.  From a public health perspective, we need to meet the need that will arise as a result of this situation.  Accurate assessment of whether this will increase or decrease property tax.  More rectangular fields.

Tina Thamel – she shares the concerns of many others. Has a petition against the slots parlor to present.

Barbara Haller – for the past 20 years, as an inner-city activist and as a D4 councilor: a vacant building that is secure is better than an occupied drug house.  People will support putting in something undesirable in a neighborhood they don’t live in.  Money changes or softens people’s opinions.  Personal connections are powerful.  Everybody has an agenda.  Unequivocally opposed to the slots parlor.  Concerned not only for predatory gambling, increases in crime and grime, etc. – getting people in Worcester in Green Island to give their money to a few very wealthy people.   Gambling the health and potential of our community and this neighborhood….

Bill tries to cut her off.

Barbara will not participate in this game.

Todd Salmonsen – wrote his notes on the back of a Keno slip.  He looks forward to the investment, taxes being paid. He’s a schoolteacher, he gets paid by taxes.  Thanks them for a job well done.

Konnie Lukes – (Eddy notes that she gets her dream in the city council – “the last word”) – Green Island traditionally welcoming point for immigrants.  We’re here to discuss mitigation.  Mitigation assumes that there is some damage that will be done by the project.  Mitigation assumes that you can measure the damage, and you can’t in this case.  When we talk about mitigation, and what’s happening in the neighborhood…will foot traffic increase?  Will local businesses benefit?  She feels they should have an agreement to respond to.  Just by having meetings, you have basically said that you’re supporting this proposal.  The manager is hired by us, if we told him to throw the proposal in the wastebasket, he’d have no choice.

Mitigation – we should be much more aggressive about bragging about Worcester.  If this is such a great project, then let’s do something that we always emphasize: let’s have the developers move to Green Island, have a residency requirement.  Anti-neighborhood, anti-business, anti-family.

-end of public comment-

46 people spoke:
32 opposed
5 opposed but resigned
6 ambivalent
5 pro

Councilor Russell – would like two chairs consider scheduling of next meeting, unless manager can provide proposal for next meeting.

Rushton reiterates, again reiterates that many of the opinions generated tonight are referendum related, not towards mitigation.

9:04 – O’Brien – recognize Councilor Russell’s concern that we don’t have a proposal.

And…the meeting wraps up.

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4 thoughts on “Slots Parlor, First Hearing

  1. Angela says:

    Thanks for this information. I couldn’t get to the meeting tonight. Appreciate your coverage.

  2. savvybear1981 says:

    Reblogged this on Straight From The Savvybear.

  3. Joe says:

    The name you missed was Jeff Mararian- he owns the Blackstone Tap.

  4. Joe says:

    Deb Cary- Great point about a sports complex. This is just over half a mile from the library lot if you go the long way- Green street through Kelly square!
    It’s just over 1000 feet as the crow flies. There is so much dead space over there- perfect place for some hockey rinks.

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