Several Milford town departments and a number of outside consultants will spend the next six to eight weeks conducting their own studies and poring over the information provided by Foxwoods Resort Casino representatives who last week detailed their plans for a $1 billion resort casino off Interstate 495.
The town has received $200,000 from the developers to conduct the independent studies, according to the Board of Selectmen’s chairman, William D. Buckley. He said once Milford “burns through” that amount, the project’s developers would be asked to refund any additional expenses incurred by the town.
“I think we’d be doing an injustice to simply peer review’’ Foxwoods’ reports, Buckley said. “The community should have the benefit of seeing our own consultants’ work.”
Particularly troubling for Buckley and others are the projections made by the developers about the proposed casino’s water consumption and its effect on traffic, as well as their Connecticut operation’s financial stability.
He said if it were up to him, he’d end discussions with Foxwoods now.
However, Buckley’s fellow selectmen, Dino DeBartolomeis and Brian Murray, said they also have questions, but want to hear more about the potential benefits to the town, which could include an additional $20 million in tax revenue as well as other mitigation steps.
Representatives from Foxwoods and their consultants last week gave an auditorium full of local residents and officials detailed plans for the proposed gaming complex, to be set on a 200-acre parcel to the east of Interstate 495 and between routes 85 and 16, near Milford’s borders with Holliston and Hopkinton.
Plans for the “luxurious” resort, which would be about a quarter of the size of the Foxwoods casino in Mashantucket, Conn., include two 300-room hotels, 40,000 square feet of retail space, 10 restaurants and lounges, and a casino with 5,450 slot machines and 240 gaming tables. The buildings would feature New England-style architecture and be clustered near I-495, leaving about 90 percent of the land undeveloped, according to the presentation.
The project will create about 2,500 construction jobs, and 3,000 full and part-time permanent jobs, Scott Butera, Foxwoods president and CEO, told the gathering. He also said the resort will spend about $50 million a year locally for goods and services.
Butera said that a new interchange on I-495 would be necessary to handle traffic to and from the casino, and he anticipates it could be completed in time for the resort’s opening. However, opponents think the developer is vastly underestimating the time it would take to build the looping highway ramps that would be required.
Butera also said that developers do not foresee a problem with providing enough water for the casino. But Buckley and other casino opponents question that assessment.
Barry Feingold, president and CEO of the Milford Area Chamber of Commerce, said he was pleased with the information provided by Foxwoods.
“I think developers made a big step in the right direction with the presentation; they are doing all the right things,” said Feingold. He said there are some chamber members who support the proposal, and a few, particularly owners of small restaurants in the area, who are opposed to it.
But, he said, if the traffic and other problems can be solved, and selectmen negotiate a favorable agreement with developers, “I think the town will support it.”
The state’s casino licensing process calls for the developer to negotiate a “host community” agreement with Milford’s selectmen, spelling out the mitigation efforts that would be provided to the town. The measure would then have to be approved by voters in a townwide referendum, and Town Meeting would have to approve the site’s rezoning, which requires a two-thirds majority, before Foxwoods could finalize its application to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.
The Milford proposal is vying for the lone casino license to be granted in Greater Boston, in competition with Suffolk Downs, which has proposed a casino at the East Boston racetrack with partner Caesars Entertainment, and Wynn Resorts, which is pitching a hotel casino resort on the Mystic River waterfront in Everett.
The commission can award up to three full casino licenses statewide, with its timetable aiming for decisions by early next year.
“I think it is going to be a beautiful building and we need the jobs,” said Maria Valenca, a Milford resident who said she has been out holding signs and working to get the plan approved. “I am volunteering my time because I think it’s a good thing for the town.”
While light-blue YES signs have been recently posted by supporters on some lawns in town, other residents say there are still a lot of questions that need to be answered before they’d be ready to vote for the project.
“So much of this is based on future, anticipated revenue,” said Buckley. “So a lot of my concern is compounded by the issue of Foxwoods’ debt. Do they have the financial wherewithal, and does the community have the faith that they can trust them?”
Butera said last week that his company’s debt is being restructured, but details of the financing arrangement cannot be publicly discussed until July 1, because of confidentiality agreements with involved parties.
Hopkinton Selectman Brian Herr, who is chairman of the MetroWest Anti-Casino Coalition, made up of selectmen from Hopkinton, Holliston, Ashland, and Medway, said his group is in the process of hiring a law firm to help its fight against the proposal. Herr said the coalition’s member towns have each pledged $25,000 to support the campaign.