Thursday, April 17, 2014
Just as government critics conjure images of bureaucrats shoveling money into a furnace, gambling advocates paint portraits of needing wheelbarrows to spread the money collected from dice, slots and cards around a community
Neither is accurate; these are the jaundiced realities of special interests trying to make a point. This is why a sober look at context is so important, especially on decisions -- like the Nov. 8 statewide ballot initiative Question 3 -- that could change the literal fabric of a city from bedspreads to betting.
Question 3 asks voters to allow a casino in downtown Lewiston. Proponents point to glitzy revenue and employment projections, such as perhaps $2.3 million in city revenue and hundreds of new jobs, to justify the development in dilapidated Bates Mill No. 5.
Yet there is a simple question that often gets overshadowed by message-making and browbeating during heated political campaigns: Does this make sense?
For a casino in downtown Lewiston, the answer is "no."
When Lewiston's mills were rollicking and the city's Grand Trunk railway depot brought thousands of immigrants to find solid employment and prosperity, the city's downtown was a hub of activity, commerce and culture.
As the mills wound down, the downtown changed. Though employment has returned -- employers like TD Bank and others are there, occupying once-shuttered mills -- the activity that once characterized downtown Lewiston has not been restored.
Nor will it be, not ever, and most certainly not with a casino. The fact is, downtown Lewiston has undergone significant revitalization, albeit in a slow, careful manner. Most of its landmark mills have been reborn as commercial and retail outlets.
On Lisbon Street, young entrepreneurs have opened caf?and art galleries and brought a fresh outlook to the beleaguered neighborhood's future.
Lower Lisbon Street, once host to an infamous strip of bars, now is home to Kaplan University and modern offices. These developments have been a decade in the making, despite being slowed by one of history's most difficult economic periods.
In short, there is a fair wind blowing through Lewiston, which the proposed casino could block. The city should instead continue to support the nascent efforts transforming its downtown -- not en masse, but brick by brick, storefront by storefront.
What casino proponents in Lewiston envision is local investors hatching, finally, a viable plan for the last and biggest eyesore in town. Given how much taxpayers have spent to keep Mill No. 5 on life support, it's not surprising they're excited by such a prospect.
Yet the revenue potential from this casino carries with it the danger of quashing the promising, if gentle, economic momentum Lewiston has created over the years.
The allure of quick gambling money should not divert Lewiston from the real progress it has made, which has not only bettered that community, but made it a model for others.
We urge a "no" vote on Question 3.