MEDFORD — How to rank the highlights of Tuesday’s Steve Wynn press conference?
The billionaire casino developer blew a raspberry into a bank of microphones, joked about knowing Donald Trump “through three wives,” upped the cost of his project to $2 billion, and announced he would name his planned Everett hotel Wynn Boston Harbor — despite not being on the Harbor.
“We’re connected to it,” he suggested, by way of the Mystic River. Technically true, of course, in the way Boston is connected to Buffalo by roads.
The media event was a classic Steve Wynn performance: unconventional, funny, boastful, long on history, and full of soaring visions — all presented stream-of-consciousness style by a Las Vegas showman who enjoys the white hot attention in the center of a press scrum.
It was his first press conference in Boston in more than a year. The point of coming, Wynn said, was to show off two new architectural models of his Everett resort, which reflect a design overhaul suggested by the state gambling commission when Wynn won the Greater Boston casino license in 2014.
But the timing is also convenient for Wynn to turn up the pressure on Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone, who has delayed the project’s groundbreaking by challenging a critical environmental permit.
Wynn also managed to drop a little news: The new estimated price tag of $2 billion marks an increase from the $1.7 billion he had put forth last year. The company has so far spent $300 million on the project, he said.
And despite the environmental appeal, he still wants to break ground in July. That is presuming the company gets a fast and favorable ruling on Somerville’s challenge to Wynn’s permit, which was granted by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
“Look, the building’s going to get built, give or take a month or two,” Wynn said.
Wynn’s contractor, Suffolk Construction head John Fish, estimated on Tuesday that construction will take 28 to 30 months, which would allow the resort to open in late 2018.
That would mark roughly the seven-year point in Wynn’s tenacious pursuit of a casino in Greater Boston, an untapped gambling market that has so far remained tantalizingly out of his reach. Through this quest, Wynn, 74, has alternately played salesman, dealmaker, and hardnosed corporate titan.
When Wynn has held the leverage, he has applied it generously. The former owners of Wynn’s casino site in Everett never wanted to cut the land price in half, after authorities discovered a felon allegedly hidden in their midst. Their choice was to take the haircut that would save the casino project or face a relentless tag-team of Wynn Resorts lawyers for the foreseeable future.
Faced with Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s play for more control over the casino on Boston’s border, Wynn cycled through tactics. He started with an olive branch, saying he wanted to “go make friends” with the mayor. When that didn’t work — and Walsh sued to stop the casino — Wynn attacked the mayor as irresponsible, and struck back with his own lawsuit. A favorable court ruling swung the leverage back in Wynn’s direction, and the two sides cut a deal. Wynn said Tuesday that the bad blood with Boston is in the past. “We’re happy neighbors now, and Mayor Walsh and I are on the same page,” he said.
The city’s chief of economic development, John Barros, represented Boston in a private meeting Tuesday with Wynn and officials from surrounding municipalities. In remarks to reporters afterward, Barros gushed about Wynn’s “amazing” vision for the resort.
In addressing Curtatone’s challenge, the casino mogul staked out a hard line.
He insisted he will not pay Somerville to settle, and then snapped at a reporter who asked why not. “We’re done paying,” Wynn said, noting that an arbitrator has decided how much the casino will pay Somerville in compensation. “The chances of the mayor of Somerville getting any extra money from us are zero.”
He belittled Somerville’s environmental appeal and sounded incredulous when told that Curtatone had raised concerns about the casino’s effect on air quality.
“Air quality?” he echoed, and then answered with a raspberry. “You gotta be kidding me. You know better than that. That’s a silly question. Air quality?”
Curtatone has said he challenged the permit to force Wynn to offset environmental effects of the project. He has argued that the exhaust from thousands of automobiles going to and from the casino would harm the health of residents who live nearby.
A spokesman for Curtatone could not be reached Tuesday.
The architectural models Wynn showed depicted a redesigned hotel high-rise. The original blocky design is gone, replaced by a smooth curved tower reminiscent of the bronze glass Wynn/Encore resort on the Las Vegas Strip. Another model depicted the hotel lobby and the gambling floor.
Wynn boasted he would be one of the largest employers in Massachusetts when he opens Wynn Boston Harbor — or whatever it will be called in the end. The company has said it will employ 4,000 people.
He also predicted the resort would revitalize an industrial section of Everett and trigger a wave of new development.
“When you have a catalyst of this magnitude, you don’t see it at first,” he said. “Remarkable things happen once it exists. All of a sudden people see all kinds of opportunities for connectivity to adjacent communities, for development that’s fanciful and lovely that otherwise would never have been possible.
“I find this sort of participation on our part,” he said, “to be narcotically exciting.”