By Lucien Gosselin
President of LAEGC
The Lewiston-Auburn Growth Council Board of Directors, consisting of local political and business leaders from both Lewiston and Auburn, has voted to support a casino development project in Downtown Lewiston.
The arguments you have heard from the opposition all sound familiar: the casino will create traffic congestion, it will be loud and that crime will increase; it can become addictive, change our landscape, alter the community’s historic and cultural character and will not encourage economic development. To the credit of the Lewiston casino representatives, the bill as drafted will ensure that just the opposite will happen.
The casino project will create new jobs that pay a livable wage, bring and may leverage significant capital investments to an underutilized site, enhance the local property tax base, provide a downtown destination attraction and will not detract from the community’s economic vitality, diverse business mix or historic character.
Rather than encourage urban sprawl, the casino will be built in Downtown Lewiston, a short walk to Downtown Auburn. Instead of a massive casino built in a rural area, is it not more reasonable to build within an already established downtown location that has all the requisite public infrastructure in the second largest metropolitan area in the State of Maine?
By no stretch are we touting the casino as a cure-all that will solve all of the community’s urban and civic challenges. We are proud of our already established businesses and will continue to work diligently with both communities to encourage continued growth. Nevertheless, this is a real opportunity that rarely presents itself. It’s an opportunity that deserves more attention; one that will make Lewiston-Auburn a destination, be a downtown anchor, promote new development opportunities and support local businesses, not only in the downtown area, but throughout the L-A community.
The direct jobs associated with the facility are important, but so are the indirect jobs to service and maintain such an enterprise after the construction has completed. Those auxiliary components include suppliers and vendors of goods, service and repair technicians including plumbers, electricians, floor mechanics, painters, architects, groundskeepers and transportation workers. These are positions that have to be filled.
Great Falls Recreation and Redevelopment LLC is comprised of local businessmen with long family histories and ties in the Lewiston-Auburn area. The wording of this bill is unique for a reason. Most of the 40 percent of the net slot machine income will be redistributed to the Lewiston-Auburn area. The money will stay here and will help finance many non-profit activities and local infrastructure projects, creating a multiplier effect regarding spending and jobs.
Bangor is continually referenced in terms of what Hollywood Slots has brought to the community. According to documents presented by Lewiston City Administrator Ed Barrett, Hollywood Slots is a $130 million facility with 400 to 500 full-time jobs, including benefits. With $15 million in annual payroll, Hollywood Slots has contributed $39 million in direct income, $69 million in indirect income and $2 million in just annual property taxes alone.
Based on Census Bureau data, the median household income increased over 30 percent between 2005-2009 and unemployment is lower than the state average according to current numbers.
The casino is working for the citizens of Bangor. Hollywood Slots has had a multiplier effect in Bangor, and there is no reason to think that a casino in Lewiston-Auburn would be any different.
If approved, imagine what this bill will do for Lewiston and Auburn. The bill allows for incredible redistribution of net slot revenue. The bill will ensure underutilized programs will be funded after years of curtailed budget cuts. This program will bridge gaps.
The casino will provide income to the City of Auburn, as well as municipalities adjacent to Lewiston, Androscoggin County and other counties. It will also provide income for downtown revitalization projects, create grants and loans for energy improvements, road and rail improvement projects will be made, ports and fisheries improved, higher education funded, state tourism promoted and a Lewiston-Auburn to Brunswick bike path will be built.
The Finance Authority of Maine, Maine Institute of Technology and the LAEGC will benefit, but so will agricultural fairs, humane societies, meals on wheels, the veterans and elderly. Funds will be allocated to the ongoing efforts to revitalize the recreational use of the Androscoggin River, the very economic driver that helped build the Twin Cities.
Whether you are emotionally pro or con for the casino, it is a legal enterprise subjected to a public referendum by the Constitution of the State of Maine. Will a casino in Lewiston-Auburn be one too many? The private sector seems to perform at its best when there is open competition among like enterprises. It is the fundamental basis upon which businesses compete.
Competition will most likely cause casinos in Maine to be aggressive with their marketing initiatives, provide greater value and incentives to attract clientele and expand the geographic area to draw people in. Aggressive marketing may very well improve tourism and may provide a year-round draw to Maine’s four season attractions.
Therefore, the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council board of directors finds the casino project proposed by Great Falls Recreation and Redevelopment LLC is consistent with the mission of the LAEGC and the goals and objectives as laid out in the downtown strategic plans for both Lewiston and Auburn.
Please exercise your right to vote on November 8.
*Disclosure: The Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council would benefit if Referendum Question No. 3 LD985/IB1 entitled “An Act Regarding Establishing a Slot Machine Facility” in Lewiston on the November 8, 2011 Ballot was to be approved by the voters of Maine. Reference: LD 985, Sec. 10. MRSA §1036, sub-§2-A, O. One percent of the net slot machine income must be forwarded by the board to an economic growth council in Lewiston-Auburn for its unrestricted use.