GREEN: Mayor Dick Norton doesn’t know if Rock Ohio Caesars is still eyeing Green as a potential site for a combined horse racetrack and video slots parlor, but he said Tuesday the city should be considered.
“If I were them, I would absolutely include Green on my short list,” he said.
The mayor added he’s not supporting or opposing the project, and he remains cautious about welcoming a gambling facility into the city.
“We don’t really know what it is,” Norton said in his first public comments since news broke last week about the possibility of the Thistledown track moving from suburban Cleveland to property the Akron-Canton Airport owns.
Green, a wealthy city between Akron and Canton, doesn’t need gambling as a financial savior like some communities and would do its due diligence in vetting the project if Rock Ohio wants to move into the community, the mayor said.
He added it would be difficult to turn down, though, given the talk of 500 to 650 jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars being invested in the project.
“It would be a significant economic boost and clearly benefit the city of Green and benefit the region,” Norton said.
“There would be a significant number of jobs and increase the tax base … and you can’t ignore that.
“But I did say to the president of the Cavs that the lure of the jobs won’t have any impact on my support or opposition whatsoever. That isn’t part of why I’d say yes or not. It’s really going to revolve around: How does it blend? Is it truly a legitimate form of recreation? Can it be part of the city of Green? But it cannot define who we are.”
Meeting in mayor’s office
The mayor confirmed to the Beacon Journal that he and city Planning Director Wayne Wiethe sat down last fall with Cleveland Cavaliers President Len Komoroski and Horseshoe Casino General Manager Marcus Glover in the mayor’s office to talk.
Rock Ohio Caesars is owned by Cavaliers and Quicken Loans owner Dan Gilbert, who also owns the soon-to-open Horseshoe Casino.
Komoroski assured the mayor that Gilbert does everything first class and the racino — the industry term for a combined horse track and video slots parlor — would fit in the community, Norton said.
Komoroski and Glover indicated they were looking at Green, Portage County and other sites, the mayor said. He did not know the other specific locations.
Norton and Wiethe signed nondisclosure forms at the end of the meeting, but didn’t keep copies of the documents. The mayor said he was released Tuesday from that confidentiality agreement.
About the same time, Rock Ohio started negotiating an agreement to lease 80 acres the airport owns along Greensburg Road. But the two sides haven’t talked seriously about the land since November, and local officials are unsure if Green is still a potential site.
Rock Ohio officials have said they are keeping their options open but haven’t responded to questions about their interest in Green.
The Cavaliers also did not respond to a phone call Tuesday.
Gov. John Kasich is considering a deal that would allow Thistledown to relocate. The belief is that officials want to move the racino farther away from the downtown Cleveland casino and capture the Akron-Canton gambling market.
Last month, the governor and Penn National Gaming Inc. inked an agreement to allow that company to move two horse tracks farther from its Las Vegas-style casinos opening in Columbus and Toledo.
Penn National will pay the state $150 million to move Raceway Park in Toledo to Dayton and Beulah Park in suburban Columbus to Austintown near Youngstown.
Norton, a retired banking executive, said he is not a gambler but isn’t opposed to it. He noted the city parks and recreation department sponsors bus trips to the Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort in Chester, W.Va.
The mayor said he knew little about racinos before the meeting last year with Komoroski and Glover and had to educate himself.
He and Wiethe visited Harrah’s Chester, a horse track and casino in suburban Philadelphia owned by Caesars Entertainment, to see the operation.
Norton said he expected to see crime and desperate people gambling, but he came away impressed with the gambling facility, stables, well-lit parking garage, security and clientele.
He described it as almost an “eloquent shopping mall.” The one-day trip — they flew in and out the same day — was paid for by the city.
Norton said he wants to educate Green residents about the issue and hopes they won’t jump to conclusions until they know more about racinos and the project. He added that he would poll residents if Rock Ohio renews its interest.
Green has received both positive and negative feedback since the story broke last week, including some residents who enjoy gambling but don’t want to see it in their back yard.
The potential site on Greenburg Road would be perfect, Norton said, because it’s not a residential area and there is access to the location from the airport’s existing exit on Interstate 77.
“If they decide to come here, I think it’s going to be a tough one for us,” Norton said about a decision.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or email@example.com.