Think of Everett as a plain, unglamorous woman, who secretly burns with passion for the right suitor. Against all odds, a mesmerizing billionaire enters her life, whispers she is beautiful — and promises even more beauty after he lavishes time and money on her.
So it goes between this humble city of 41,000 and casino mogul Steve Wynn, who is seducing Everett with the intensity of Lady Chatterley’s lover.
Last week, several hundred residents packed the Everett Armory to watch Wynn reveal the latest renderings of the $1.2 billion gambling resort he wants to build on the Mystic River. An advance team from Las Vegas transformed a room where senior citizens take Zumba class with locally bought potted palms, shimmering curtains, and soft lights. The cost was $100,000, according to those familiar with the operation.
Frank Sinatra crooned “Come Fly With Me” before Wynn took center stage and talked about his theories of hotel design, which he linked to the “primordial forces” of sun, water, and plants.
Everett is his third casino target. Boston spurned him first. After Mayor Thomas Menino reportedly refused to discuss any site that would compete with a proposal the mayor backs for Suffolk Downs, Wynn campaigned to build a casino near Gillette Stadium with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Encountering strong opposition from Foxborough residents, Wynn discovered Everett and its 3.7 square miles set on Boston’s doorstep.
Following a whirlwind courtship, he now has a host agreement and a June 22 referendum date — the first one set since the state’s casino law was passed in 2011. He’s promising to spend $30 million to clean up a polluted site and turn the unlovely banks of the Mystic River into a mystical destination: Wynn Everett.
There will be a tree-lined boulevard, an atrium filled with natural light, a riverfront promenade, and water taxis. The hotel will be a special shade of “Wynn bronze.” He won’t build “a box of slots.” His resort will be “a destination people can come to if they don’t give a damn about gambling.”
As a salesman, Wynn’s hypnotic. But he said nothing about traffic mitigation — or about the state of negotiations with the city of Boston, which owns the road going in and out of his proposed site, as well as land along the Mystic River.
Still, his bet could pay off, given the unsettled feel to the Suffolk Downs bid. Menino was its backers’ ace, but he isn’t running for reelection. At least three mayoral candidates now say they support a city-wide referendum instead of one limited to the ward affected by the casino.
The Suffolk Downs team of Richard Fields and Joe O’Donnell is partnered with Caesars Entertainment. Host agreements with Boston and Revere have not yet been announced. One of Suffolk Downs’ largest stakeholders — Vornado Realty Trust — announced last month that it wanted to divest, after 11 representatives declined to file the financial disclosure forms required of all casino license applicants. Its 19.2 percent interest was put in a blind trust, and Vornado has three years to sell the shares.
There’s talk of dissension between Fields and others on the Suffolk Downs team, but Chip Tuttle, the chief operating officer, said, “our partnership is very strong and completely committed to seeing this through.” Foxwoods Resort Casino has also joined forces with another group hoping to build a suburban casino in Milford.
Wynn’s unexpected entrance into the casino quest is driving up the development cost for everyone else. “We don’t need any help,” he told the enthusiastic Armory crowd. “We keep $2 billion in cash . . . we can handle this job.”
What will make the difference to the state gaming commission, which ultimately chooses the license winner? Will the margin of victory of a referendum vote matter? Will it hinge on the number of hotel rooms? The potential for a “guest experience,” as Wynn describes it? What about behind-the-scenes politicking by Menino and others?
Wynn and all interested parties deserve an even playing field — and equal scrutiny. The burden is on the gaming commission to provide both.
Everett’s eagerness for a deal shouldn’t make it susceptible to a bad one. But if the city believes in Wynn’s magic, it should have a fair shot at it.Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.