The owners of Suffolk Downs have unveiled their design for a $1 billion resort casino at the 77-year-old horse racetrack. The developers say it would create 2,500 union construction jobs and another 4,000 permanent jobs, also union.
With spitting rain and a brisk cool breeze pushing the infield flag stiffly out toward the harbor, Suffolk Downs officials moved their press conference inside the grandstand Tuesday. Thoroughbreds trotted up and down the straightaway for show as Richard Fields, the racetrack’s principal owner, unveiled to the public for the first time artist renderings of the long-planned development.
Fields described it as "what would be a mecca for entertainment and gaming for all of Boston and Revere."
The pictures show the entrance to Suffolk Downs, a 300-room, nine-story hotel, curved, not quite as rounded as a horseshoe. The ground floor has restaurants and shops and the casino. It would run up to 5,000 slot machines and 200 table games. Behind it, a tree-lined walk leads to a new, bigger grandstand overlooking the racetrack.
Boston architect David Manfredi explained the idea.
"We envision an urban oasis," Manfredi said. "A mecca of entertainment, of hospitality, of gaming, restaurants, shops. It is that mix that will make it very special and make it very urban."
The urban neighbors around the site — which is about a half-mile square — have to say yes before Suffolk Downs could even bid for a casino license. And there is already organized opposition in East Boston. Hence, the promotional video played at the press conference.
“Where else, but Suffolk Downs?,” goes the refrain.
The racetrack is teaming up with Caesars Entertainment of Las Vegas.
"Most important thing to consider when you’re building a facility like this, a gaming facility, is you want to be where you’re wanted," said Ceasars CEO Gary Loveman. "And I think the debate in this state recently has shown that trying to go where you're perhaps less than welcome is not a great way to proceed."
Other proposed casinos — most prominently in Foxborough, but also recently in Lakeville and Freetown — have failed to win the support of local residents.
At the press conference, the crowd was partisan: in favor.
"I’m a bartender here!" said Francine DiMaria, who works at the track. She joined union tradesman and horse racing industry folks at the press conference in applauding the proposal.
"Jobs for everybody, that’s the main thing," DiMaria said. "Because people are in tough times now. You know I’m lucky I have my job. Plus, I don’t have to get the bus to go to Foxwoods all the time."
Suffolk Downs has been working for years to get the support of local groups. But as the proposal takes shape, so do worries about traffic congestion and other problems.
"Clearly the traffic issue is something that has to be addressed," said Diane Modica, head of the East Boston Chamber of Commerce. It’s in favor of the casino, partly because of a promise from the developers to spend $40 million improving Route 1A and a number of intersections in East Boston, Revere and Chelsea.
"There’s actually going to be traffic improvements that frankly would not have happened otherwise," Modica said. "No one’s going to put $40 million on the table — no matter what they build here — unless it’s people here with deep pockets like this casino and Suffolk Downs.
The Suffolk Downs developers said they’ll explain more about their traffic mitigation plans in the coming days.
This program aired on June 5, 2012.