Lewiston council gives casino developers new option on Bates Mill No. 5

Posted Dec. 21, 2011, at 5:53 a.m.

LEWISTON, Maine — The City Council voted Tuesday to approve a new option on Bates Mill No. 5 for a developer’s drawn-out hope of one day creating a casino at the site.

The nonexclusive, $50,000 option on the vacant mill building “doesn’t tie the city’s hands at all,” said local physician and Great Falls Recreation and Redevelopment investor Ronald Chicoine. “It does give us a shot.”

Great Falls Recreation and Redevelopment had attempted to gain approval to build a casino at the downtown Lewiston location through a referendum in November, but it was soundly defeated. Only 37 percent of voters across the state favored the Lewiston project, which critics say would compete with already approved gambling facilities in Oxford and Bangor.

But Lewiston voters passed the question by almost 1,300 votes, and investors in the project say there is still a chance that Lewiston could have a casino if state legislators come up with a statewide management plan for gambling establishments.

“We had a setback but we’re not going to give up,” Stavros Mendros, manager of Great Falls Recreation, said. There is discussion of creating gambling regions across the state with “a certain number of slot machines per region,” Mendros said. “Even if it’s 1,500 and Oxford gets 1,000 or 1,250, we would have enough” to build a viable casino combined with a conference center, he said.

Still, he admitted that such an outcome is a long shot.

The option agreement gives Great Falls Recreation little more than the ability to say they have a potential location for a casino should current gambling laws change in their favor, and the right to choose another spot in the city to build a casino if those laws change after the city decides to use Bates Mill No. 5 for another purpose.

The option, which will extend from Jan. 1 through June 30, leaves the city with the right to sell, lease or demolish the building. If another potential investor appears, the city would not have to turn them away because of the deal, City Administrator Ed Barrett said.

The deal was purposely written as nonexclusive because city officials are even less optimistic than Mendros and his investors that Lewiston could get the go-ahead for a casino, Barrett said. “That’s why I don’t have any huge heartburn going forward with this, because it doesn’t restrict us.”

The new option shares some of the terms with a previous option that the developers had with Lewiston, under which they paid the city $50,000.

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