Casino details divulged

Mayor Daniel Knapik said this morning that a Westfield property owner is close to striking a casino deal.
Knapik told a group of people at his monthly coffee hour at the Holiday Inn Express that Penn National Gaming, Inc. has been negotiating with him and the owner of 280 acres of land near the Mass Turnpike. The land is bordered by East Mountain Country Club, Barnes Airport and North Road.
“Most people don’t even know it’s there,” said Knapik of the space.
Knapik said several casino operators have shown interesting the city.
“I thought we had a deal with the Hard Rock, but that went south,” said Knapik.
Penn National develops Hollywood-themed regional gaming facilities.
Knapik said residents often speak about the burden of property taxes, lack of local jobs and retail shopping opportunities, their desire for entertainment, such as a movie theater, and need for local hotels. Knapik said none of these things are possible without a large developer, such as a casino.
Knapik said as part of his negotiations he has asked operators to also consider a downtown presence.
“One operator suggested putting its human resources department downtown and be our partner in downtown development,” he said.
When Knapik threw out a number, he said the operators “didn’t flinch.”
Knapik said the operator would be making a $500-750  million dollar investment in the city.
Another point of negotiation is the development of access to the site from the turnpike.
“I have made it clear that would be their responsibility,” Knapik said.
A casino would bring about 2,000 jobs to the area. Knapik said those jobs would range from $10 an hour housekeeping positions to $100,000 per year management and finance jobs.  The downtown human resources department could involve up to 200 white-collar jobs.
The big plus to residents would be a conservatively estimated permanent 30 percent reduction in property taxes.
City Advancement Officer Jeffrey Daley said currently the mayor must raise $56 million a year to meet the state-set tax levy through business and residential taxes.
“If a casino pays $18 million in property taxes, that’s $18 million taken off the burden everyone else has to pay,” said Daley.
Daley added that the law is very specific and those taxes cannot be used elsewhere.
Knapik said the rules on bringing casino gaming to Massachusetts are clear:  mayors negotiates with operators, than residents must pass a referendum in order for it to go through.
“There is no role for planning boards, zoning boards or councils,” Knapik said. ” That’s how simple this equation is.”

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