October 28, 2010

Business people briefed on project’s status

By Ann S. Kim akim@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

OLD ORCHARD BEACH - Representatives of Biddeford's city government, Scarborough Downs and Ocean Properties Ltd. fielded questions about a proposed racino complex from members of the business community Wednesday.

About 55 people attended a breakfast gathering organized by the Biddeford-Saco Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The organization is not taking a stance on Biddeford Downs, which Scarborough Downs and Ocean Properties hope to build on city-owned land west of the Maine Turnpike in Biddeford.

"This is not a debate. This is not a public forum," said Craig Pendelton, the chamber's executive director. "This is business people coming together to ask questions, hear what's going on with the racino project."

Earlier events -- a forum in Biddeford's City Theater, a City Council meeting and a meeting organized by opponents -- featured ardent speakers and emotional responses from the audience. Biddeford's voters will decide Tuesday whether the city should host a harness racing and slot machine operation.

The mood was calm Wednesday morning as Pendelton read questions that had been submitted and speakers responded.

The speakers highlighted some of the figures, explaining that the project is expected to involve $125 million in investment and employ 500 people, and that state law requires any contract between a slot machine operator and the host community to provide the community with at least 3 percent of the net revenue.

They also covered questions such as how a racino would affect downtown revitalization efforts in Biddeford.

Biddeford Mayor Joanne Twomey said she would negotiate for provisions like spaces for local businesses to advertise at the complex, and shuttle runs between the racino and downtown.

City Manager John Bubier said racino revenue could go toward downtown projects, like Diamond Match park at one end of the RiverWalk.

Ocean Properties envisions the complex as an equestrian resort that would include a small spa and an entertainment venue that would have events like flower and horse shows and concerts -- though nothing on a massive scale, according to Tom Varley, the company's senior vice president of operations.

Daniel Stevenson, Biddeford's economic development director, said the site is well positioned off Interstate 95. Like any business, he said, Biddeford Downs would have to be able to adapt its business model to changing circumstances.

Fred O'Neil, who works in marketing and advertising in Saco, said he came away impressed with the project. He said he was a little disappointed that the presentation lacked information from the opposition. Some racino opponents attended the breakfast but they did not make a presentation.

 

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: akim@pressherald.com

 

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