Resort, Shmesort! Casino at Suffolk Downs Will Get Done Because It's Do-Able

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The folks who own Suffolk Downs are entitled to redevelop the tired, old racetrack in any legal way they see fit.  I say good luck to them with their $1 billion plan to build a “destination resort casino” next to a bunch of stables and fuel storage tanks.
Not that they’re going to need much luck.  Right now they’re the only viable contender for the license to operate a casino in the eastern part of the state, one of three such licenses the gaming commission will be awarding next year or the year after.
Although there have been reports that some big players in the gambling industry are quietly looking at other sites in the area, no one but the owners of Suffolk Downs has come forward with an actual plan.  Each day that passes with no one else stepping up, the odds that Suffolk Downs will be the eastern licensee improve.
That does not mean, of course, that Suffolk Downs will ever be a true destination resort, or that a casino is the best re-use of the racetrack complex, which has been a fixture on the border of working-class East Boston and Revere for 77 years. 
A good case can be made that downtown Boston, with its hotels, restaurants, historic sites, sports teams, art scene, entertainment venues, and multiple modes of transportation, is a better place for a destination resort casino than a distant, congested corner of the city that sits beneath a major flight path to Logan International Airport.  (You can almost see the passengers’ faces as the jets descend.)
But $1 billion projects do not get done in the world of what-ifs and best-case scenarios.  They happen on a piece of ground owned by guys with deep pockets and blessed by favorable politics, zoning and regulations.  Dreamers need not apply.
If we were ruled by philosopher-kings, we’d be talking now about a transit-oriented housing development at Suffolk Downs, not a casino. 
The racetrack, its ancillary facilities and its parking lots take up more than 150 acres.  It is served by its own dedicated station on the Blue Line, built to accommodate a legion of now-extinct Boston bettors, and is very close to another Blue Line station, Beachmont.  It would be a perfect place to house folks who work in Boston and can’t afford, or don’t want to buy, the second family car.
There is no doubt such housing is needed, and would be snapped up quickly if available. 
Just last week, Governor Deval Patrick announced the goal of creating 10,000 new multi-family housing units per year in Massachusetts, emphasizing how housing construction on that scale would be good for workers, employers and the competitive fitness of our economy.
As part of a new Compact Neighborhoods program, Patrick intends to push hard for new multi-family housing, i.e., apartment buildings, near rapid transit stations and town centers.
At a re-purposed Suffolk Downs, what would be best for the long-term growth and health of the Massachusetts economy:  a casino or thousands of apartments?
Since a casino could be built somewhere else and generate the same revenue for the Commonwealth as one at the racetrack, the answer is new housing.
For reasons both practical and legitimate, however, that question is not even at the periphery of the process that will determine who gets the eastern license.

FOOTNOTE: According to a new report by the Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University, the metropolitan Boston region will need to produce at least 12,000 new housing units per year for the next decade in order to accommodate projected population growth and economic expansion.  For details, go to and click on The Greater Boston Housing Report Card 2012.



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Unknown said...

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