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Now you see it ... Slots proposal loses hotel.

COLUMN: IN OUR OPINION

For months, the developer of a proposed slots parlor in Worcester has dangled an attractive carrot. Now comes word that the luxury hotel that was supposed to be built downtown in conjunction with the gambling emporium is off the plans.

That such a significant component of the project could go poof so early in the game is not a good sign at all.

We do not believe the slots parlor/hotel duo was ever going to be a financial windfall for the city. Sans the hotel, even fans of the proposal should be able to see the fortune slipping through the city's fingers.

Worcester Solicitor David M. Moore said he has been told by the lawyer representing Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming that the full-service, upscale hotel planned for an unnamed site downtown is no longer part of the development package for the slots parlor, which would be sited a few blocks away in the city's Green Island section.

The city has yet to begin negotiations with the slots developer - that's another story - and so Mr. Moore Wednesday said he couldn't elaborate on the hotel's departure from the table. As reported in yesterday's Telegram & Gazette, sources familiar with the negotiations said the developers were unable to secure a third investor for the project with local ties.

There could be any number of reasons hotel developer Richard L. Friedman, president of Carpenter & Co., might eventually choose not to build a luxury hotel here, or scale down the ideas. Projects evolve as factors weave in and out, and as players show their hands.

But such a major fissure so soon in the undertaking raises concerns about its overall soundness that must be clarified for the City Council, and for all Worcester residents. If the slots parlor proposal proceeds, a citywide referendum will be held. Only if residents approve the negotiated project will the plans proceed to Massachusetts officials, who will then decide where the state's sole slots parlor will be located. This is all expected to happen in a matter of months.

Despite the time pressure, a second serious complication is that the city has not yet begun negotiating a host community agreement with Rush Street Gaming. According to Mr. Moore, the city has been stalled in hiring the lawyer and financial consultant it needs to help in that negotiation, because Rush Street hasn't yet approved the money for them. The $225,000 maximum for the lawyer and $100,000 maximum for the consultant will come from the $400,000 application fee Rush Street paid the state for its slots proposal in January.

As opponents of the slots proposal, we could simply say that these two developments - one delaying the project, the other damaging it - are positive ones. But that's looking at matters in a rather dim light. For a deal of such huge importance for Worcester's future, we want every step in the planning and decision making to be professional, careful, and clear.

Leave the crossed fingers and chance-taking to the people who someday will be sitting at the slot machines, wherever they will be.

At the moment at least, it's looking increasingly unlikely the glitzy machines are coming here.

A nice new hotel, though, now there's a thought.
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Title Annotation:EDITORIAL
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:May 31, 2013
Words:541
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