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Joyce Endee

Casino parking concerns residents

June 17, 2009
BERLIN — Jim Rafferty of New Hampshire Charitable Gaming gave a presentation to around 50 residents Tuesday night about the casino NHCG would like to build in Berlin should the legislature allow.

The main objection to the plan among residents was the risk of too much traffic and too little parking in the city.

Mr. Rafferty said NHCG would like to build start with a 12,000 to 15,000 square foot building with 250 slot machines and 10 gaming tables. He estimates the cost would be $7 million to build it. NHCG would put the casino downtown where the Albert Theater currently is, with parking across the street at the site of the Rite Aid building.

"We see this is about jobs, tourism, entertainment and prosperity," Mr. Rafferty said.

The city would see an estimated $300,000 a year in revenue from the casino. That doesn't include the property taxes and other fees associated with the business.

The state would receive an estimate $2.6 million from the facility.

The casino would also provide the equivalent of 155 jobs and an estimated $4.6 million in payroll.

Mr. Rafferty said most people work part-time at casinos, so the casinos actually hire more than 155 people. He said the goal at this point would be to provide benefits to people who work more than 20 hours per week, but the cut off may become 30 hours.

Mr. Rafferty said the bill that is currently before the legislature is not going to work to bring a casino into the area because the fees are too high. He said he would like to see the percentage the state takes reduced from 49 percent to 30 percent for the first $10 million, and the fees reduced from $10,000 to $5,000 per slot machine.

If the changes are made and the bill passes the legislature NHCG will apply to the lottery commission for the Cos county gaming license. Mr. Rafferty said there will probably be other proposals as well, both for Berlin and other towns in Cos County.

The city will not be able to chose which proposal it favors; the decision will be up to the lottery commission.

Mr. Rafferty said he would like to grow the facility if it is successful. NHCG would build on the Rite Aid plot if traffic increased beyond the capacity of the Albert Theater. At that point NHCG would be looking to the city to build a parking garage.

Several residents said they didn't think Main Street could handle the additional traffic a casino would bring.

Councilor Lucie Remillard asked if NHCG would consider locating the casino somewhere else.

"The only place for this project, in our opinion, is in the downtown," Mr. Rafferty said.

Cynthia Morin, owner of the Inner Glimpse, said stores on Main Street already suffer from congestion and a lack of parking. Wouldn't a casino exacerbate the problem? she asked.

Mr. Rafferty said most people visit casinos between 8 and 11 p.m., when these businesses would be closed. In addition, he said, the 187 parking spaces they would build would be open to shoppers during the day, in fact reducing the parking problem.

"It's going to put people on foot on Main Street," he said, provided much-needed customers for the businesses on Main Street.

Some residents continued to criticize putting the casino in the downtown, saying it should go to the east side or out on Route 110.

City manager Pat MacQueen said it would be a bad idea to push businesses to the outskirts of town.

"That's how you kill a downtown," he said. "Downtowns are intended to be dense."

"Economic activity is going to bring with it traffic," said Mayor David Bertrand, and if the city wants to improve the downtown district it has to accept parking and traffic problems.

Mr. Rafferty said that type of problem would be better than empty buildings.

"The condition of the Rite Aid parcel is hurting this downtown," he said. "You've got to fix it."

No one raised any concerns about having a gambling facility in the city.

Mr. Rafferty urged people to get involved in the conversation in Concord.

"Right now it's up to the state legislature," he said. "Whether you're pro or con I think it's your duty to let your representatives know."

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