EVERETT — The former Monsanto Chemical Co. site isn’t much to look at: a flat wasteland loosely paved with crushed rock, hidden between Route 99 and a commuter rail bridge tagged with neon graffiti.
But the 37-acre parcel on the Mystic River is the centerpiece of a stunning turn in the development of the state’s fledgling casino industry, having attracted the interest of Las Vegas casino builder Steve Wynn, one of the biggest names in the business, who visited the site on Wednesday.
Wynn and his entourage arrived in four black sport utility vehicels. Wynn drove the land, walked parts of it, considered the sightlines to Boston, and the access to the water.
In subsequent remarks to reporters, the casino billionaire addressed an obvious question about the homely industrial parcel: Who would ever pay to come here?
“I remind most of you that in my business the development makes the destination,” said Wynn, who built the Bellagio, Mirage, and the Wynn and Encore resorts in Las Vegas. “The kind of facilities we build become destinations unto themselves.”
Wynn spent several months in early 2012 pitching a $1 billion casino plan to Foxborough, on land near Gillette Stadium he intended to lease from New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. But Wynn was unable to persuade local voters to embrace the plan, and he dropped it in May. His exit from Foxborough appeared to leave Suffolk Downs, in East Boston and Revere, as the only applicant for the sole resort casino license for Greater Boston, which had been expected to be the most lucrative license in the emerging Massachusetts casino market.
Wynn’s return would put him in a direct competition with Suffolk Downs and the track’s casino partner, Caesars Entertainment. The properties are about 5 miles apart. Suffolk Downs has estimated the cost of its project at $1 billion.
Wynn was low-key throughout his brief City Hall press conference, though he delivered one moment of swagger. Asked what makes the Everett site better than Suffolk Downs, Wynn paused, grinned, and then offered: “The developer.”
The casino tycoon, appearing aside Mayor Carlo DeMaria Jr., made no firm commitments, and said that talks with Everett are at an early stage. But he said he never lost interest in the Bay State, despite his failed effort in Foxborough.
“Massachusetts has become very interesting to my company,” said Wynn. “When we were in Foxborough, we engaged the whole economic, demographic posture of Massachusetts. And had to come to the conclusion: Would this be a sound place to make a business investment? And under certain circumstances, the answer was yes. Again reminding ourselves that if the community felt it was a good idea, then probably the economics justified the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Wynn was joined at the Monsanto site by Joseph F. Fallon, chief executive of The Fallon Co. He is the developer of Fan Pier in the Boston Seaport District and a friend of Boston’s mayor, Thomas M. Menino, who supports the Suffolk Downs casino plan.
Fallon joined the tour as a favor to Wynn; the casino builder was aware of Fallon’s work developing an urban waterfront, and wanted Fallon’s opinion on the Everett site, according to a spokesman for Fallon. Fallon is not involved in any casino project, his spokesman said.
Wynn said he is working on a deal for the land, which is owned by a real estate company, FBT Everett Realty. As the longtime site of a chemical company, the land “has to be cleaned,” Wynn said.
DeMaria said his private talks with Wynn were “very healthy,” and that the need to create jobs in Everett should make the political environment friendlier than Foxborough. “Jobs may be the key,” he said.
Everett resident Evmorphia Stratis, 60, said she intends to organize against a casino in her city, which she said would increase crime and put more cars on overtaxed roads.
Other locals are bullish about a Wynn resort in their city.
“I think people who jump the gun about crime or other problems are way off base,” said Vincent Ragucci Jr., 70.
Chip Tuttle, chief operating officer at Suffolk Downs, did not respond directly Wednesday to Wynn’s reappearance as a possible competitor. “We have the advantages of a superior site in one of the most-visited cities in the world, proximity to New England’s largest airport, best-in-class partners, strong community support, and a 77-year track record as the state’s premier gaming destination,” he said in a statement.
Under the casino law, the state gambling commission can issue up to three licenses for resort-style casinos, no more than one in each of three regions of the state. The panel also controls one slot parlor license, which can be issued in any region.
The state gambling commission has set a Jan. 15 deadline for casino applicants to submit extensive financial documentation and a $400,000 non-refundable fee.