Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mashpee Wampanoag Forced To Look For New Proposed Casino Site

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The State of Massachusetts will once again consider casinos but the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe just lost their proposed casino site in New Bedford and must look for a new site. The article below, part of the Tribes In The Media series, is from The Cape Cod Online media outlet.

Fall River pulls plug on Wampanoag casino
By George Brennan
Cape Cod Online
January 18, 2011

Fall River officials have told the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe that their $21 million purchase of 300 acres in Fall River for a casino is off the table.

Instead, Fall River Mayor Will Flanagan and a contingent of city leaders are meeting with state economic development officials this morning to resurrect the idea of building a biotechnology park, known as the BioPark, on the land. The park would include a bioprocessing and training facility to be built by the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.

More Times Breaking NewsThe deed restriction that prohibits a casino on the property, as well as an ongoing lawsuit brought by 10 taxpayers to block the sale to the tribe were seen as hurdles that would be too difficult to overcome, said Kenneth Fiola, vice president of the Fall River Redevelopment Authority.

This appears to be another blow for the Mashpee Wampanoag, who have been pushing for a casino for nearly four years since gaining federal recognition in 2007. Once considered inevitable, the hurdles have stacked up against the casino.

In May, the tribe scrapped a deal it had in place with Middleboro, where there was vocal opposition, to pursue the Fall River land with new investors.

On Tuesday, tribal council Chairman Cedric Cromwell issued a statement saying that the tribe is optimistic it will find a new site in Fall River. “This remains an outstanding opportunity to create jobs for the tribe and the city, and we are working hard to make this project a reality,” Cromwell said.

After months of negotiation that began last Feburary, Flanagan announced in May the city had reached a deal with the Mashpee Wampanoag to sell the 300 acres near Route 24. The tribe said it would build a $500 million resort casino that would include three hotels and a shopping mall.

City and state officials raised immediate questions about the proposal because of a deed restriction that banned both a landfill and casino at the site and because the state had already invested $34 million to build an exit off Route 24 for the BioPark.

But Flanagan and Cromwell pressed forward saying the casino jobs would make a more immediate impact on the city's double-digit unemployment rate and they could convince the Legislature to remove the deed restriction. In October, the redevelopment authority agreed to sell 45 acres to the tribe for $4.5 million. The tribe also had an option on 255 additional acres for $16 million.

No money ever changed hands and before the city and tribe leaders had a chance to sign a written agreement, a lawsuit was filed to block it. In addition to the deed restriction, that suit objected to the redevelopment authority selling the land without going out to competitive bid.

A Bristol Superior Court judge imposed a preliminary injunction that has so far thwarted the city's efforts to sell the land to the tribe. That case continues to wind its way through the court.