By Ethan Forman
---- — DANVERS — Four Danvers selectmen who met with an official representing a casino developer interested in siting a slots parlor at the Liberty Tree Mall say they didn’t get many specifics.
The developer, The Cordish Companies of Baltimore, Md., also did not commit to a Danvers site.
Town Manager Wayne Marquis said selectmen and town officials met with Jeff Snyder, a project manager for Cordish, individually and in pairs to avoid violating the open meeting laws.
“It was kind of a meet and greet,” said Selectman Dan Bennett, who said a public meeting on a potential project is tentatively scheduled for March 5, if Cordish is still interested.
Board members gained some insight: A slots parlor would have a capacity of 2,500 people and up to 1,250 slots, including so-called electronic table games that do not require a dealer, selectmen said. Selectmen said they were told the former Sports Authority building at the back of the mall, at 50,000 square feet, could accommodate a slots parlor that could employ 700 people, without need for an expansion.
During this stage of the application process, Cordish officials do not have to name a site, and the corporation has not yet told the state what kind of license, casino or slots, it intends to pursue.
“They have not yet confirmed with us,” Massachusetts Gaming Commission spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll said in an email. “They still have the basic threshold decision: is this something we are going to do or not.”
Cordish has developed two Hard Rock-themed hotels and casinos in Hollywood and Tampa, Fla., and last year opened a casino at the Arundel Mills Mall in Hanover, Md. Arundel Mills is owned by Simon Property Group, which also owns the Liberty Tree Mall.
But Danvers is being eyed for a slots-only facility, Marquis said, not a full casino. Danvers is also not the only location in the state the company is eyeing.
“It was a good meeting,” said Selectman Gardner Trask. “This is really an exploratory discussion.”
Trask said he asked about parking, traffic and infrastructure but got few details. One thing Trask does not want to see is more traffic on Constitution Lane, a back entrance to the mall that leads to residential streets.
“I told them they have to convince me; I am not sold yet,” said Trask. He said his questions would be the same for any large development being proposed in town, and he has no problem with gaming.
Bill Clark, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said he has received more phone calls, emails and letters about this issue than he ever has since being elected in 2006 — and all the calls are running against a slots parlor.
“They made almost no commitment, they were noncommittal,” Clark said of the casino developer.
Among the opponents of the slots casino are Gloucester business owners Rosalie and Sam Parisi, who own and operate a Lucky 7 gaming arcade that opened at Liberty Tree last summer.
Their arcade, however, includes only 40 slots and games, with another 50 at their original arcade on Rogers Street in Gloucester. And their facility deals not in cash, but in prizes that are gift certificates for other local businesses, including some at the mall. Sam Parisi has said he believes a 1,200-slot casino would be “inappropriate” for the Danvers mall.
Clark said he is concerned about increased traffic on local roads, with Route 128 in need of expansion and Route 114 resembling a parking lot on Saturday afternoons.
Selectman Keith Lucy said it is way too soon to talk specifics with Cordish, and that many details, such as revenues to the town and other mitigation issues, are best left for negotiations.
Lucy noted that there is a process to vet any proposal that is made, including a 60- to 90-day window before any vote on a host agreement.
“We are going through a process to define what it is,” Lucy said, “and there will be plenty of time to debate once we ... define what it is.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.