TAUNTON, Mass. — If Taunton’s economy could use a lift, so could its City Hall; the old one had a fire. Right now the city’s doing its business in an outdated elementary school built in the 1950s. So it was in a gymnasium-turned-council chambers that Mashpee Tribal Chair Cedric Cromwell touted a world-class casino that would draw people from around the globe to the seat of Bristol County.
“We look at it as a gateway to promote Taunton, all the great things about Taunton, bringing people to Taunton,” Cromwell said, “coming to stay at our destination resort-casino, venturing out throughout Taunton and southeastern Mass.”
The draw? A casino with 3,000 slot machines and 150 table games. A steakhouse and a fine-dining Asian restaurant. A food court, retail stores and around 5,000 parking spots. Eventually, three hotels would be built – one would have a water park inside.
But the numbers that Cromwell stressed were of a different sort.
“The main point here? Jobs. Creating jobs and getting people working,” he said.
Namely, 1,000 construction jobs – union ones, Cromwell said – steady over a phased construction plan that could take five years. When that’s done, 2,500 permanent ones. And that’s why Taunton Mayor Thomas Hoye stood at Cromwell’s side.
“Listen, Taunton has the economic struggles like many other cities and towns,” Hoye said. “Am I saying this is a cure-all, that this is going to cure all our problems? Absolutely not. But I don’t want to be a mayor that sits back and does nothing. I think we at least have to see this opportunity through.”
In the audience of around 70 people, two crossed their arms and frowned. Most nodded their approval.
When it was over, Ron Rheaume said the casino proposal looked good to union tradesmen like him.
“We’re at the worst of the worst right now,” Rheaume said.
Rheaume’s a carpenter from Fall River. A pack of Marlboro Golds was tucked in the pocket of his flannel shirt.
“This would be not an immediate shot in the arm, but at least some light at the end of the tunnel to have some hope!” he said.
At the Winthrop Street Barber Shop in Taunton, Sandy Resendes gave a customer a crew cut. Most customers, he said, want the casino.
“You know, I see hundreds of people a month here. Maybe a handful [of opponents],” Resendes said. “But most of the people are definitely for it.”
There are still plenty of obstacles to Taunton getting a casino. Among them, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe has to negotiate a gaming compact with the state by the end of July. The federal government has to let the tribe put the 145-acre site into trust, essentially making it part of its reservation. And Taunton residents will vote on the proposal in June.