By Angeljean Chiaramida
---- — SALISBURY —The Maryland-based gaming company that explored placing a large-scale slots casino in Danvers’ Liberty Tree Mall is not in the cards for Salisbury, either.
Town selectmen here voted 3-2 earlier this week against trying to negotiate a hosting agreement with the Maryland real estate development company that wanted to build a 120,000-foot slots facility on Route 110.
The vote came after a short discussion at a specially called selectmen’s meeting. But it followed a 90-minute workshop during which the Baltimore-based Cordish Companies pulled out all the stops by bringing in architects, engineers and a lawyer to make the presentation in hopes of persuading selectmen not to reject the idea.
Conceptual drawings showed a roughly 120,000-square-foot, 1,250-machine casino, with three restaurants, a theater and five-story, 1,071-vehicle garage. The complex totaling 190,000 square feet was proposed for an 11-acre lot owned by Bruce Arakelian, and currently partially occupied by Vision Max cinema and the Sylvan Street Grille.
Salisbury had everything a casino needed, according to Cordish’s Director of Development Jeffrey Snyder: a great site, terrific access to major interstates and located on a state highway with proximity to moderately sized communities like Lawrence, Lowell, Methuen, Haverhill and Southern New Hampshire.
Residents also had a chance to speak, and Bob Carroll and Jim Dondero spoke against allowing the “slot parlor” in town, fearing it would lower home values, bring an unwanted impact to town, along with a type of business that was not of significant standard.
To have pursued the proposal, the selectmen would have had to negotiate and sign a hosting agreement by July 25 that would delineate what Cordish would be required to do to protect residents, including how it would mitigate all the impacts the large development would bring to the community. The contract deadline was engraved in stone, because it’s only the first phase in the legal process required for locating a slots casino in the state.
The next deadline would have been Aug. 1, when selectmen would have to call for an Oct. 1 voter referendum, for residents to vote yes or no on the agreement. By law, the referendum could take place no sooner than 60 days after selectmen sign the hosting agreement.
If voters had approved the contract, Cordish, along with all other slot-casino contenders, would have had to submit their applications to the state gaming commission no later than Oct. 4. The state agency would choose one winner.
Selectmen Don Beaulieu, Freeman Condon and Henry Richenburg said 17 days just wasn’t enough time to negotiate such an important contract with Cordish, for it had to protect the town from the impacts building a gambling establishment would bring. And the impact that was most feared was the enormous amount of additional traffic such a development would bring to already busy Route 110.
Plus, after finding a series of lawsuits online related to other Cordish casino projects in Florida and Maryland, Condon said he didn’t believe the promises Snyder made about mitigating traffic, job development and the roughly $2 million in annual revenues Cordish promised town coffers. And, Condon said, he didn’t believe that all the “negative impact” of the casino had been fully flushed out.
Condon told Snyder that the site is too small to hold such a development, the traffic problems it would create are insurmountable and that the “hold-the-gun-to-our-heads” 17-day contract deadline was unacceptable.
Beaulieu thanked Cordish for its presentation, but said the timing had always been a problem for him. Although he would have gone along if a majority had wanted to pursue negotiations, Beaulieu didn’t think success was likely.
“I personally do not believe a solid agreement can be reached in the time we have to reach it that would benefit the town as a whole,” Beaulieu said. “I just don’t think you can do it.”
“I think 17 days is an awful short time to negotiate a deal, even with the help of a consultant,” he said.
Earlier this year, Cordish first courted support in Danvers for a similar slots proposal that would have gone into the old Olympia Sports store at Liberty Tree. But the proposal was met with questions there as well —including from the Parisi family of Gloucester, who had been operating a Lucky 7 arcade there in addition to the Lucky 7 on Rogers Street in Gloucester.
Both Lucky 7 locations remain closed down in the wake of a June 11 state and local police raid carried out through search warrants investigating potential illegal gambling at the facilities. Owner Rosalie Parisi and her husband Sam Parisi have maintained that their arcades pay off only in prizes and gift cards to local businesses, and are therefore not illegal under state gaming statutes.
Cordish officials have not said that they have ruled out the Danvers project.