By Laurent F. Gilbert Sr.
Mayor of Lewiston
That’s right! A “yes” vote on Question 3 for the Lewiston casino initiative will create jobs and economic development that we desperately need for this area of Maine.
The Lewiston Casino proposal is unique not just in Maine, but throughout the country. It adheres to the recommendations of organizations such as Grow Smart Maine, the Maine Development Foundation and our very own Lewiston-Auburn Growth Council. The LAEGC voted unanimously at its meeting a week ago for a resolve in support of Question 3 on the November 8 ballot. It simply is smart growth that these organizations represent.
The Lewiston casino initiative will allow us to reclaim an idle, vacant building that once housed hard-working people. It was only hours away from destruction until the casino proposal came forward. The casino proposal will now transform it into a productive economic enterprise, putting people in our communities locally back to work.
Your vote for the Lewiston casino initiative is not simply a vote for economic growth for Lewiston-Auburn; your vote is a statement that there is a right way to go about development that both encourages growth while respecting the environment, as it reclaims brownfield space and revitalizes an idle building that was bound for destruction.
A downtown casino prevents the cost of sprawl by keeping it in a downtown. We all know the cost of sprawl, particularly in this state, which is well documented. The 2006 Brookings Institute study highlighted Lewiston-Auburn as a key service-center community that could accommodate considerable growth without increasing sprawl, yet this is an area that has suffered from de-population while other major cities in Maine grow. Clearly, then, Lewiston-Auburn represents a significant opportunity for sensible growth at minimal risk to the environment. This initiative will allow us to move our community of L-A forward.
The Lewiston casino initiative revitalizes not only our downtown; it provides funding for downtown revitalization throughout Maine. It also provides funds for a river trail from Lewiston to Brunswick, which would be an attraction for young people (and older ones, too, to keep in shape), who are living in the Androscoggin River Valley area, and it funds loan–forgiveness programs for college graduates who stay in Maine.
Our Riverfront Island Development Plan is currently being developed to look out into the future. I have purposely appointed a number of young adults to this committee, as it is they who will enjoy the fruits of this plan. This casino initiative plays right into this development plan. The local casino initiative developers have purposely decided to place the casino in Mill No. 5 and no other location! The reasoning of these local investors is to provide economic development in our downtown.
Recently, several restaurant owners attended a press conference in support of the casino, as they know how this will benefit their businesses. As a matter of fact, the treasurer for the political action committee in support of Yes on 3 is none other than former Lewiston Police Chief Bill Welch, who is part owner of Pedro O’Hara’s restaurant, which is directly across the street from the casino site.
Opponents to a casino in Lewiston are throwing out a whole list of scare tactics, such as an increase in crime. Nothing could be further from the truth. We need only look at Bangor, right here in Maine, to see that it has not had an effect. If that were the case, neither Chief Welch nor I, as a former Lewiston Police Chief, would be supporting a casino in our home town.
Certainly the friends of Oxford Casino PAC are putting out mailers claiming that the casino initiatives on the ballot would risk losing funding for schools. We all know how our local state legislators are supportive of not only our schools locally but throughout the state, as some of them are educators themselves. If what the Oxford Casino PAC propaganda folks are putting out were true, why then would our local legislators have voted to support the Lewiston casino initiative in the last session of the Maine Legislature?
Do not be fooled by those who have chosen to place a casino in the wrong location: the woods of Oxford that benefits no one around them.
What will a Lewiston casino do for jobs? We all know that we need jobs. In the short term, some 800 construction jobs could be created in the investment of $100 million in revitalizing Mill No. 5. In the long term, the casino could hire up to 500 local people with jobs that pay good wages and benefits. If you feel that we could use this infusion of jobs, then a yes vote on Question 3 will bring this initiative to fruition.
Using the estimated cash flow of Hollywood Slots in Bangor, the total wager is $650 million and the payback to gamblers is $585 million or 90% of all wagers. That leaves a net of $65 million. Of that comes 1% gross tax to the State of Maine, equaling $6,500,000; a 39% tax/beneficiaries amounting to $25,350,000; property taxes of $2 million; and payroll of $15million. This leaves $16,150,000 for the casino owners, and out of that come supplies and services, federal and state income taxes, interest on capital and depreciation on some $130 million.
Here is the breakdown of Lewiston casino beneficiaries, which is based after the 90% pay-out and the state’s 1% off the top: Lewiston Downtown 0.3%; Lewiston Energy Efficiency 0.3%; City of Lewiston 2%; City of Auburn 1%; Androscoggin County 1%; Municipalities Adjacent to Lewiston 0.5%; Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council 1%, Lewiston-Auburn Joint Expenditures 0.5%; Lewiston Infrastructure 0.5%.
Also: Androscoggin River Water Quality 3.0%; Statewide Downtown Revitalization 2.7%; Statewide Energy Grants/Loans 2.7%; Other Counties excluding Androscoggin County 3.0%; Ports and Fisheries 3.0%; East/West Highway 3.0%; Rail improvements 3.0%; Rail Improvements Bethel 2.0%; Higher Education Capital 1.0%; Games of Chance/Veterans 1.0%; Agricultural Fair Support 1.0%; Job Creation Through Educational Opportunity 1.0%; State Tourism 1.0%; Finance Authority of Maine 1%; Beano or Bingo 0.5%; Harness Racing Purses 0.5%; Humane Societies 0.5%; L-A to Brunswick bike path 0.5%; Meals on Wheels 0.5%.
As is clearly visible, there is a great deal of financial benefit, not only to the Cities of Lewiston-Auburn and Androscoggin County, but also to the entire State of Maine and its many entities.
Now, why would I as mayor agree to be the spokesman for the political action committee called “The People of Lewiston-Auburn Committee”? The simple answer is that I care for my home community of Lewiston and its people. I am speaking out in support of Lewiston residents who voted for a Lewiston casino at Mill No. 5 a year ago in June with 66% in favor. The City Council voted for a resolution urging voters to support a Lewiston casino.
I wish to emphasize that I am receiving not a penny, nor have I been promised a single penny or any other benefit after the potential approval of a Lewiston casino.
The fact of the matter is that we have been bypassed by a U.S. Postal Service Distribution Center, an interstate highway with no tolls and many other benefits in the state. Now “It’s Our Turn!”
For jobs and economic development, I urge each of you readers to go to the polls on November 8 and to vote “Yes on 3” for a Lewiston casino.
See Mayor Gilbert’s personal blog at www.MayorLarryGilbert.com.