A slots parlor proposed for the Liberty Tree Mall will take center stage in Danvers this week, with selectmen planning to meet individually with the developer in the coming days while also debating the plan at their public meeting on Tuesday night.
Since last month, news of a proposed gambling facility has been the talk of the town. There has been mixed reaction, with some lining up to oppose it, and others embracing the idea. Even before the state awards a license, a host community would have the right to negotiate an agreement with the developer that could include financial compensation. The town would be required to hold a referendum to accept or reject a gambling hall.
Some selectmen already are taking a hard line against any gambling proposal. William H. Clark Jr., the board chairman, said a 24-hour slots parlor at the mall would bring more traffic to an already congested area, and would change the life of residents who live nearby.
“They’ve got a long road to go to get the people in town in favor of it,” said Clark. “We’re so impacted with the traffic now, and to have 24-hour operations within a few hundred yards of a residential [neighborhood] is unconscionable.”
Two major highways pass through Danvers, routes 128 and 1, and its main arteries include the smaller routes 114, 62, and 35. Over the last 28 months, the state spent $29.5 million to rebuild the intersections and ramps leading from Route 128 to Routes 62 and 35. Despite the reconstruction, traffic is often bumper to bumper leading to Beverly during rush hours.
Beverly Mayor Bill Scanlon said a gambling facility in a neighboring town would bring additional traffic.
“I’d be lukewarm at best,” he said about the idea.
Danvers Selectman Dan Bennett said he sees little financial gain for the town.
“Slots parlor players are not going to come into town for meals or to shop,” he said. “Busloads of people will be coming to town and leaving. I don’t see where there would be any financial benefit for the town.”
The debate will continue when the board meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Town Hall.
Robert Bradford, North Shore Chamber of Commerce president, said his organization would not oppose a slots parlor, because it would bring jobs and spur economic investment.
“I don’t think it’s an ideal economic tool, but it will create some foot traffic in the mall, and some activity, and jobs,” he said.
In January, PPE Casino Resorts was a last-minute applicant for one of the four gambling licenses that will be handed out by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission in the next year. Three of the licenses, for full casinos, will be awarded in Greater Boston and the southern and western regions of Massachusetts. One license allows for a slots-only parlor, which could be anywhere in the state. In its application, which cost $400,000, PPE Casino Resorts did not specify a preference for a casino or slots parlor and did not name a location.
Late last month, the Globe reported that PPE Casino Resorts, run by Cordish Cos. of Baltimore, had contacted Danvers about building a 24-hour slot machine parlor in Liberty Tree Mall. The plan, according to town officials, calls for a 100,000-square-foot gambling hall with 1,250 slot machines in the former Sports Authority, which relocated to the front of the mall last fall. It also would require adding about 50,000 square feet to the mall, and constructing a parking garage for its clientele.
The proposed slots parlor could bring together two companies that have a history of working together. Last year, PPE Casino Resorts opened a $500 million casino at the Arundel Mills Mall in Hanover, Md. That mall is owned by Simon Property Group, which also owns the Liberty Tree Mall.
In Danvers Square, reaction to the proposed slots parlor was mixed.
Donna Picone of Danvers said she would oppose any gambling facility in town.
“I just don’t think they should have it at the Liberty Tree Mall,” she said. “It’s a family place to shop and we have lot of traffic problems in Danvers and it would create a lot more traffic. Also, kids don’t need to be near gambling and they hang out at the mall.”
Josh Johnson, who manages a bike shop on Maple Street, said he would welcome a slots parlor. “It sounds like a perfect place for it,” he said. “The Liberty Tree Mall has always been underutilized. I’m not a big gambler but I would check it out.”