BIDDEFORD – Scarborough Downs is teaming up with Ocean Properties Ltd., a hotel operator and developer, to propose a $125 million racino complex near Biddeford’s border with Arundel.

The concept for Biddeford Downs calls for a racetrack and grandstand, as many as 1,500 slot machines, an entertainment complex and a 200-room hotel on an 88-acre parcel that the city owns on Andrews Road, off Route 111.

The partners announced their plan at a news conference Wednesday, a little more than a month before Biddeford voters will decide whether a racino should be allowed in their city.

The project’s backers say the complex would produce 500 full-time jobs — not including construction jobs — with average salary and benefits worth $35,000 a year. They say the racino would generate $5 million a year in tax revenue for the city and $30 million in state taxes.

Mayor Joanne Twomey said the jobs would provide a boost for unemployed residents, even though the projection is less than an earlier estimate of 900 jobs, which included construction positions. She said it’s time to recognize the opportunity represented by the racino.

“Five hundred jobs are more than we have now,” Twomey said. “I see the people come to my office looking for jobs. These are people with degrees and they’re looking for work. They’d be happy to sweep the street right now because they need to feed their families.”

Scarborough Downs’ intention to move to Biddeford became clear last month when the Biddeford City Council decided to put the racino question on the Nov. 2 ballot. Voters in Scarborough have twice rejected proposals to allow slot machines at the harness racetrack, in 2003 and again two years ago.

Sharon Terry, the owner of Scarborough Downs, said she gave it a lot of thought before deciding to look for another home to keep the racetrack viable. “The industry needs gaming revenues,” she said.

The city-owned land in Biddeford is vacant. It was considered in recent years for a business park that never was built, said Daniel Stevenson, the city’s economic development director.

The vote on a racino in Biddeford is just the first hurdle for the project. A change in state law — through the Legislature or a citizen initiative — would be needed.

Maine law prohibits slot machines and casinos. Hollywood Slots in Bangor, operated by Penn National Inc., was developed during the short period when Maine allowed racinos to open in communities that approved them.

An initiative on the state ballot in November will ask voters whether a casino with table games and slot machines should be allowed in Oxford County, and whether similar operations should be barred within 100 miles for 10 years. If the proposal passes, Biddeford would need an exemption.

Biddeford Downs also would have to go through the city’s usual planning process.

A public forum on the proposal will be held at 6 p.m. Monday at Biddeford’s City Theater.

Ocean Properties operates 135 hotels in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean, as well as marine-related ventures that include a cruise ship terminal and ferry service in Florida. In Maine, it operates the Samoset Resort in Rockport and Holiday Inn, Marriott and Westin hotels. The company was one of the bidders for Portland’s Maine State Pier redevelopment project, which was not built.

The founder of Ocean Properties, Thomas Walsh, was introduced to harness racing as a child and has been involved in it at various times in his life, said Tom Varley, the company’s senior vice president of operations.

“Tom really believes this is an industry worth saving,” Varley said.

Not everyone at Wednesday’s news conference at Mechanics Park was enthusiastic about Biddeford Downs. A handful wore orange and black “NO” buttons from 2003, when a statewide referendum asked voters whether Bangor Raceway and Scarborough Downs should have the option of operating racinos at their racetracks.

“Gambling causes problems and it causes them on a personal level, and society has to deal with that from our slice of the pie,” said Kyle Noble, a former Biddeford city councilor who helped organize Casinos No! in 2003.

Elsewhere in the city, residents and merchants contemplated how the latest details of the racino proposal would affect the city vote Nov. 2.

Dennis Anglea, a business consultant who supports a racino, said that having a specific site would make voters more likely to support the ballot question.

“It’s not going to be thrown in next to a school or anything like that. It’s going to be where it should be — on the outskirts,” Anglea said.

Sharon Sevigny, a partner in the Lacava antique and gift shop who owns property in the city, opposes a racino but agreed with Anglea’s assessment that the known location will likely help a racino’s chances.

As a Saco resident, Sevigny won’t vote on the racino question, but she hopes more Biddeford residents will come to see her viewpoint.

“Obviously, Scarborough didn’t want it,” she said. “They didn’t want it for a reason.”

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

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