Suffolk Downs Goes Head to Head with Massachusetts Historical Group

Posted on: March 22, 2014, 05:30h. 

Last updated on: March 21, 2014, 03:09h.

Historic barns Suffolk Downs Casino Revere, Massachusetts
The potential demolition of historic barns could be a stumbling block in the Suffolk Downs Revere casino plan. (Image: Ted Fitzgerald, Boston Herald)

Racetrack operator Suffolk Downs and casino outfit Mohegan Sun knew they had a lot of obstacles to overcome when they proposed a new casino in Revere, Massachusetts.

They had to win over voters, overcome opposition groups in both Revere and Boston, work through state regulations, and beat a competing bid from Wynn Resorts aimed at Everett. But of all the things that could have stopped their plans from being fulfilled, there was one hurdle they never considered: ratty, decrepit horse barns on the proposed building site.

Historic Commission Has Their Say

Nobody could have imagined these structures would pose a problem: there’s no structural reason they can’t be removed quite easily. But the Massachusetts Historical Commission has attempted to block the destruction of these barns nonetheless, saying that the buildings – which have been on the state list of historic landmarks for some time – are an important part of Massachusetts’ history.

The casino proposal would see that those barns would be destroyed and rebuilt on the East Boston side of the racetrack, so the horses themselves would not be missing out on anything. But in a letter to the state environmental secretary, Massachusetts Historical Commission director Brona Simon said that her team has determined that the move would “have an ‘adverse effect’…on the historic Suffolk Downs through the demolition of all or part of the property and the introduction of visual elements that are out of character with and will alter the setting of the property.”

Studies Could Cause Delays

While keeping the rows of small barns may seem like a trivial issue, it could end up costing Mohegan Sun and the racetrack a great deal of time and money to rectify. Potentially, it could even end up derailing the project altogether.

Based on the landmark claim, the developers may have to study ways to build their casino while satisfying the Massachusetts Historical Commission at the same time. While experts say that the Commission can’t stop the project from going forward entirely, it can cause some substantial delays – which could ultimately be a factor that kills the project’s chances of receiving a license from the state gambling board.

Tuttle Downplays Significance of Letter

But despite the potential setbacks, Suffolk Downs COO Chip Tuttle tried to downplay the possible stumbling blocks posed by the Commission.

“We appreciate [the Commission’s] interest in the preservation of racing and our historic racetrack and grandstand, understanding that the only opportunity for that preservation is the success of the Mohegan Sun’s proposal,” Tuttle said, calling the Commission’s letter “a standard part of the permitting process.”

According to Brian McNiff, a spokesman for Secretary of State William F. Galvin, mitigation methods could come in a variety of forms, ranging from preserving original building materials when the barns are moved to simply taking the time to carefully document the properties before they are demolished.

History of the Suffolk Downs Casino Project

In 2013, the Suffolk Downs racetrack proposed a plan to build a casino – with Caesars Entertainment as a partner – on the East Boston side of their facility (which sits partially in the neighboring city of Revere). Just weeks before the host communities were set to vote on the project, Suffolk dropped Caesars as a partner due to concerns that they would fail a state background check over some alleged third-party Russian mob connections.

That move may have left voters concerned, as the proposal was defeated by East Boston residents. However, voters in Revere gave their approval to the plan, which ultimately led Suffolk Downs to make an alternative proposal: place the casino entirely in Revere with the help of Mohegan Sun. After some legal maneuvering, it was decided to allow Revere voters to weigh in on the new proposal, which they approved in February.