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Friday, May 10, 2013

Salem casino plans get boost to include conference center, hotel, spa and performing arts facility

CONCORD – The longtime developers of a casino in Salem unveiled plans Wednesday night to pump $150 million more into the project to include a hotel, spa, conference center and entertainment complex.

Bill Wortman, co-CEO of Millennium Gaming, told a
strongly-supportive crowd of 300, the redesign positions the complex to compete with three Massachusetts casinos in the planning stages and one already up and running in Maine. ...

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CONCORD – The longtime developers of a casino in Salem unveiled plans Wednesday night to pump $150 million more into the project to include a hotel, spa, conference center and entertainment complex.

Bill Wortman, co-CEO of Millennium Gaming, told a
strongly-supportive crowd of 300, the redesign positions the complex to compete with three Massachusetts casinos in the planning stages and one already up and running in Maine.

“For this to work in the current marketplace, we need to be competitive but do it in a way that’s cohesive to the New Hampshire way of life,” Wortman said. “We just can’t come in and build a giant, glass building in Salem and expect it to work.”

Architect David Climans said the design was to make the structure a “destination” but retain traditional New England themes for the original Rockingham Park horse racetrack built there a century ago.

The once-$450 million project would cost more like $600 million and after 18 months of construction would include:

A 300-room hotel.

A spa and conference center adjacent to the casino and hotel.

Return of thoroughbred racing with a new racetrack next to the casino.

An entertainment center that would seat between 1,000 and 1,500 people. The number of seats is important as operators of the Verizon Wireless Center hired a lobbyist to amend the pending casino bill to prevent any entertainment space there that sat more than 1,500.

Despite Wortman’s claims it would not compete with local entertainment houses, officials from the Capital Center for the Arts in Concord and Palace Theater in Manchester have both warned a House committee that their businesses could be devastated by this.

The project will create 2,000 construction jobs and 1,300, full-time jobs once it opens, officials said.

Millennium bought an option to buy Rockingham Park and turn it into a casino eight years ago, but is not the only firm interested in the fate of legislation to expand legalized gambling.

Owners of the Greenmeadow Golf Course in Hudson and New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon have publicly expressed interest and state officials said they have heard from a total of five groups with prospects for a casino in NH.

This new, unannounced design emerged after House members on the super committee expressed doubt the Salem project or a casino of similar size could complete with Massachusetts plans that all have been in excess of $1 billion.

The Senate-passed casino bill (SB 152) that has Gov. Maggie Hassan’s support, requires a $425 million investment by the casino owner, but that total includes a one-time, $80 million license fee and the cost of land purchase and other development costs.

Earlier Wednesday, Millennium officials showed these drawings to those attending a legislative luncheon down the street from the State House.

They also brought to the forum two officials from Washington County, Pa. where Millennium built the Meadows Casino and Racetrack to talk about the benefits that region got from the project.

A county commissioner and redevelopment agent from Pennsylvania insisted fears of prostitution and a sharp jump in crime did not occur, while the business has pumped in $53 million for other local projects such as business parks and public works improvements.

The House Finance and Ways and Means Committee collectively meet today to hear talk from three working groups that have spent the last month pouring over the Senate bill’s impact on state revenue, social costs and regulation.

The Senate bill calls for the state to receive a 25 percent tax from the up to 5,000 slot machines on site and 14 percent tax from profits at 150 table games.

The host town would get 3 percent from the slots, surrounding towns would share 1 percent and another 1 percent would go into a fund to help addicted gamblers.

This is in addition to the $80 million license fee that Governor Hassan relied upon to produce her proposed, two-year state budget last February.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashua
telegraph.com.

Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).