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Sun considering nongaming development in Palmer

By Brian Hallenbeck

Publication: The Day

Published November 23. 2013 4:00AM
Water park was part of now-rejected Mass. casino resort plan

Mohegan - Mohegan Sun will consider developing the 152-acre site in Palmer, Mass., where it had hoped to develop a $1 billion resort casino, the gaming operator's top executive said Friday.

"As far as Palmer goes, we've invested almost $25 million in the whole process, a lot of it involving the land," Mitchell Etess, the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority's chief executive officer, said Friday. "Millions and millions has gone to the landlord. We believe it's a good site for development."

Mohegan Sun signed a 99-year lease on the property in 2008.

Voters in Palmer rejected the casino proposal by 93 votes in a Nov. 5 referendum. A recount, sought by Mohegan Sun and its supporters and scheduled for Tuesday, is not expected to change the referendum outcome.

The Mohegan Sun Massachusetts plan included a 70,000-square-foot indoor-outdoor water park, two hotels and 300,000 square feet of retail development. Presumably, some portions of the project still could be pursued at the site, though Etess declined to discuss what the Mohegan Tribe has in mind.

"We could develop something other than gaming there," Etess said. "It depends. We'll have to take some time to assess what's possible. Everyone in Palmer liked the water park idea."

Mohegan Sun has informed Northeast Realty Associates, the owner of the property, that it was terminating its "exclusivity agreement" with Northeast, freeing the casino operator to negotiate with potential partners involved in other casino projects in Massachusetts.

Mohegan Sun has been in talks with owners of Suffolk Downs, the Boston-area race track hoping to propose a casino in Revere.

Etess addressed speculation among some in Palmer that Mohegan Sun had begun talking to the Suffolk Downs owners prior to the referendum in Palmer.

"The idea that we talked to anyone before the vote is patently untrue, reckless and illogical based on events that took place," he said. "If we had a plan to move on, why would we have asked for a recount? We were completely shocked, surprised, stunned by the vote."

He said, however, that there were no major discrepancies in the vote and that the voting machines are highly accurate.

"Given that, we can't wish away the results," he said. "At some point, we need to make a decision that's best for the tribe."

Etess declined to discuss the status of Mohegan Sun's negotiations with Suffolk Downs.

"What I will say is that eastern Massachusetts is a very good gaming market and we passed our suitability with flying colors, so there might be people who have a need to partner with us," he said.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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