Artist's rendition of the proposed New Bedford casino.
By JOYCE ROWLEY, for ecoRI News, where this piece originated.
On June 23, local voters will get to decide whether the city should have a waterfront casino. The City Council set that date for a binding referendum last week. A ballot question is required under the state’s Massachusetts Expanded Gaming Act for a Category I gaming license.
If the referendum passes, New York City-based development firm KG Urban Enterprises will move forward on licensing a $650 million casino resort complex on MacArthur Drive, and remediate an 11-acre former NSTAR brownfield as part of the project.
“This will bring jobs to the city, it will clean up a contaminated site and it will put us on the map,” City Council President Brian Gomes said. “We are the ideal location.”
New Bedford is one of three communities vying to host the Category I casino allocated to southeastern Massachusetts (Region C). The city of Brockton and the town of Somerset also are going to binding referendum in the next two months on proposals for casinos.
Two other proposed casino operators, one in Springfield and one in Everett, were approved by voters and received gaming licenses in the past two years. Both casinos are expected to be completed in the next five years. In addition, two tribes are also seeking to site casinos in the state.
Last week’s council vote was unanimous, with the abstention of council member Naomi Carney, who left the room during the discussion. Carney has tribal association with the Mashpee Wampanoags, who first had a compact with the town of Middleborough, and are now looking at the city of Taunton for their casino.
Councilman David Alves, chairman of the board’s gaming subcommittee, said with an anticipated 3,000 permanent jobs and more than 2,000 construction jobs, the casino would be the largest economic driver in southeastern Massachusetts.
“We’re in a premier position as a gateway community with the highest unemployment rate, and more than $50 million to be used in an environmental cleanup,” Alves said, ticking off reasons why the state Gaming Commission would choose siting a casino in New Bedford.
He said KG Urban has already invested $13 million over the past five years in preparing for the casino application.
Dana Rebeiro, council member for Ward 4 where the casino would be located, said she was interested in hearing what local residents had to say. “I’m just excited that people have a chance to voice their opinion. This is going to change New Bedford forever.”
Cannon Street Station The host community agreement signed by Mayor Jon Mitchell and Barry Gosin, managing member of KG New Bedford LLC, in March calls for a 300-room hotel, restaurants, retail space, a conference center, a 5-story parking deck and a recreational marina at the site.
Named the Cannon Street Station, the casino would retain the smokestack and iconic New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Complex building on the property. KG New Bedford has committed to investing $10 million in a public harbor walk and pedestrian walkover to connect the casino with the historic district downtown.
Downtown’s Zeiterion Performing Arts Center is identified as the impacted live entertainment venue under the gaming act’s eligibility requirements, and KG New Bedford will provide cross-marketing to it and to existing stores and restaurants in the area.
KG New Bedford has signed an agreement with the local labor union specifying that 20 percent of the construction workforce will be union. And an affirmative action program, also part of the gaming act’s requirements, also is included in the agreement between the city and KG New Bedford.
In exchange for a $12 million payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, the city agrees not to request additional fees or costs for improvements to schools, police or fire services and infrastructure. A $4.5 million preliminary economic regeneration payment to the city was agreed on as required by state law.
Brownfield cleanup The former NSTAR site was used historically by the New Bedford Gas & Edison Light in the late 1880s. The plant manufactured gas until the 1960s. A portion of the property also processed tar, from the 1930s to 1960s, with dockage to offload coal tar from barges for processing.
When seepage of contaminants into New Bedford Harbor was identified in 1996, NSTAR began a site investigationand remediation plan under Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection review. By 2012, steel sheet piling, dredging and capping had contained the contaminants found in the slip areas and bottom sediments, according to state officials.
But the remediation plan only contained the existing onsite material from escaping into the harbor. The site was found to have significant levels of tar, coal tar, fuel oil, cyanide, lead paint, asbestos and mold. KG New Bedford has committed to a $50 million cleanup of those remaining contaminants.
Once KG New Bedford completes the equity verification process, which is expected to be completed by May 4, as part of the Gaming Commission’s licensure requirement, it will move forward with setting up public forums on the referendum.
In addition to other costs, KG New Bedford has agreed to foot the estimated $90,000 special election for the ballot question. According to the Election Commission, the election requires some 200 workers at 36 polling sites.
“As hard as we worked, now it’s left up to our constituency,” Ward 2 Councilman Steve Martins said. “Whichever way they vote, they must come out and vote.”