Revere Mitigation Agreement Viewed Positively, Though Some Skeptical of Initial Numbers

Revere signed its long-awaited host community agreement (HCA) Wednesday evening in a ceremony on the steps of City Hall, with Mayor Dan Rizzo and Suffolk Downs Owner Richard Fields on hand to cement the potential financial union between the City and the track.

The agreement came one day after Boston’s blockbuster agreement that was the largest to date in the state and projected some $52 million to that City annually.

By contrast, Revere is projected to get $15 million per year in mitigation payments, which is just about 29 percent of Boston’s annual payment projection. It is also around 10 percent of the City’s annual budget.

“We took a very measured approach and weighed the opinions, and ideas, of the community throughout this process,” said Rizzo. “The prospect of a resort style casino at Suffolk Downs will surely create jobs and lead to further investment within our city. The host community agreement will act to protect the city’s interests and ensure that we have the resources needed in the future. The citizens of Revere, through an election, will be the final deciding voice on the prospect of a resort style casino. My feeling is that when the citizens of Revere see this agreement, they will support the committee host agreement overwhelmingly.

“I believe that the Revere host community agreement is an extraordinary deal that will help make the transformation of Revere a reality,” he continued.

Suffolk Downs principal owner Richard Fields said Revere would help his company set the standard for gaming venues in Massachusetts.

“Mayor Rizzo and his team have been true partners as we have pursued this opportunity and we are grateful for the effort they have undertaken,” he said. “We look forward to continuing to foster that partnership with the City and its residents and, together, setting the standard for gaming resorts in Massachusetts in every way.”

The meat of the agreement details millions that could potentially flow into the City’s coffers annually, with a projected figure of $15 million coming to Revere each year – a number that includes property tax payments.

However, those annual payments are – like in the Boston agreement – tied to the performance of the casino. If the casino reaches $1 billion in gross gaming revenues per year, Revere would get the $15 million. If they fall short of that goal of $1 billion, then payments could be lower. The floor payment is around $4.25 million, according to Economic Development Director John Festa.

Another major piece of the agreement is a $16 million one-time mitigation fee, which has already been pegged for use in paying for the new football field/Stadium project and for a newly constructed youth center.

By contrast, Boston received $33.4 million in its negotiated one-time fee, money that will be expended in East Boston exclusively. East Boston has pegged projects such as rehabilitating a school, building a new youth and senior citizen community center and improving two parks.

Also by contrast, the competing casino proposal in Everett proposed by the Wynn Group agreed to pay $25.5 million per year in mitigation – which also includes property taxes. It has a guaranteed increase of 2.5 percent annually built into the payment formula.

Everett also negotiated a $30 million one-time fee from the Wynn Group.

The only other proposal is by Foxwoods and it’s located in Milford. That Town has a draft agreement hammered out and a spokesman for Foxwoods told the Journal this week that they expect a successful vote of the Town government next week.

Milford’s agreement calls for $22 million per year in taxes and impact fees, and a one-time payment of $17 million. They have also committed to $100 million in transportation and infrastructure improvements. That development is projected at $1 billion for 660,000 sq. ft. and 2,000 permanent jobs.

Another big issue being looked at in the Revere agreement is what the casino project was about since its inception – jobs.

In Revere’s agreement, Suffolk Downs committed to producing 2,500 construction jobs and – once completed – 4,000 permanent jobs in the resort. The Revere agreement indicated that those jobs would carry a Revere preference in hiring. However, the Boston agreement spelled out that 50 percent of those jobs would be reserved for Boston residents.

There was no percentage immediately spelled out for employment of Revere residents – only that there would be a preference.

There was a renewed commitment in Revere’s agreement for $45 million in transportation improvements combined in Eastie and Revere.

Ward 1 Councillor Richard Penta – who represents the section of Revere where Suffolk Downs is located – said he thought the agreement was sensational.

“I think it’s phenomenal,” he said. “I talked to councillors about this a year ago and they expected $5 to $6 million a year. This is much more than anyone thought we’d get just a year ago. Anyone who says differently is not being genuine. This is a 15-year license, if they get it, and that would be $200 million in total to Revere. Think of this. We’re getting that kind of money and there’s not one thing being built in Revere. I think that’s sensational.”

He said he had heard some negative comments initially, but he had also heard a measure of enthusiasm.

“You’re never going to make everyone happy,” he said. “The administration did a good job here. To pit us against Boston is not realistic. That’s a major city. That’s just a cop out and that’s just somebody who is anti-administration. I don’t see how anyone could knock this agreement.”

Other councillors, however, were reserved in their comments – perhaps a little let down, but ready to hear further explanation from the mayor in a special Council meeting on Saturday.

“As far as what the agreement contains, we don’t know yet whether it’s good or bad,” said Councillor Bob Haas, noting that he would like to call a meeting of his Economic Development Committee to analyze the deal. “You look at Boston and they have about $55 million with a low of $32 million. We have $15 million and a low of $4.5 million. It seems like something’s wrong with the way they added up those figures, but I need more information and I am excited to meet with the mayor on Saturday to hear more details.”

He said he has had about five calls from constituents who had concerns over the numbers.

Councillor Brian Arrigo – chair of the Ways and Means Committee – said he was reserving judgment as well, but didn’t get the ‘wow’ factor feeling he was hoping for.

“I would say my initial reaction is that I’m a little bit underwhelmed, but I don’t have the details to know if there is any other provision that would make up for that,” he said. “I was hoping to have that sense of the ‘wow’ factor, but I didn’t get that. Everett had a ‘wow’ factor. Boston certainly had a ‘wow’ factor with their financial provisions and 50 percent of the jobs for Boston residents and all of the tax revenue and fees and such…Right now, with the numbers being thrown around, I feel a little disappointed and only because I think the Legislature gave us a gift in letting us negotiate the agreement and gave the mayor a lot of leverage and opportunity…I think with us being the last to sign, there was a lot of opportunity and leverage to go back and squeeze to get the ‘wow’ factor.”

He said he would like to see transportation studies, financial analyses and real estate value breakdowns when getting the details from the administration.

“I know people will say that if you have any criticism or comments about the deal, then you are anti-administration,” he added. “However, this is a deal that will set the standard and will affect the City for generations to come…This is the biggest issue anybody on the Revere City Council will deal with for a long time. It’s really only about making sure we get the best deal for Revere.”

Haas also said he was still disappointed with the layout of the project, which was unveiled more than a year ago and features no development on the Revere side of the line. He recalled that there was supposed to be a hotel on the Revere side and a casino on the East Boston side, but that got changed for some reason.

“Mayor Menino got in it and all the sudden everything went to East Boston,” he said. “We lost out on all the tax revenue, all the licensing fees and all the hotel excise taxes. I simply want to make sure our taxpayers in Revere get a fair share to reduce their water and sewer rates and their tax rates…We have a lot of things we would like right now, but I think giving the ratepayers and taxpayers relief is an immediate need.”

Councillors said they have called a meeting for Tuesday night at 6 p.m. in City Hall to vote on the agreement and to set a date for the citywide referendum vote.

Penta said the vote could be scheduled for as early as Oct. 29th, but he said the state and both cities would like to have it on the same day in Revere and Boston. He said they would wait to see what Boston does in scheduling the vote, but that he hoped they would set the date on Tuesday.

“The one thing about this that has discouraged me is how it has slowed down,” Penta said. “The Gaming Commission was going to issue the license in January and now it’s moved back to April. Someone’s going to get it and someone is not going to get it. The sooner they decide, the better for everyone.”

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