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Mayor, Foxwoods announce Fall River casino plans

January 28, 2014 Updated: January 29, 2014 at 9:06 am

FALL RIVER, Mass. (AP) — Mayor William Flanagan and Conn.-based Foxwoods on Tuesday unveiled a plan to build a $750 million resort casino in Fall River, saying it would bring thousands of jobs and become a tourist destination in the region.

Flanagan said the project would create between 3,000 and 5,000 jobs for the economically struggling city. In addition to a casino of some 140,000 square feet, the facility would include 20 restaurants, a hotel, a convention center, a spa and an entertainment center for concerts and other events.

"We want this to be a destination here in Massachusetts as well as the Northeast," the mayor said at a news conference.

"This is not a gambling hall — this is a destination resort," said Foxwoods CEO and President Scott Butera, calling facilities like the one proposed for Fall River "economic engines like nothing else in the world."

The plan needs approval from voters and the state gaming commission.

Voters in the town of Milford last fall rejected a plan by Foxwoods for a similar $1 billion resort casino there.

Butera said that, while Milford didn't have an appetite for the project, the plan has what he called good momentum in Fall River. "We know it's the right home for us," he said.

Flanagan said he is optimistic voters will sign off on it.

Both sides indicated they want to move quickly. The hope is to identify a site in the next 30 days. Foxwoods ideally wants between 30 and 70 acres, and city officials on Tuesday made a plea to parties interested in selling.

Sites on the waterfront and throughout Fall River are being evaluated, Flanagan said. He declined to identify any.

Once a site is found, the city and Foxwoods will negotiate a "host community agreement" under which the city would secure financial promises and Fall River will schedule a voter referendum.

"We want to be the first to open," Flanagan said.

Massachusetts' 2011 gambling law allowed for one casino to be built in the southeast region and gave preference to a federally recognized tribe here. It's uncertain whether Foxwoods will be able to compete for the license.

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe signed a compact with Gov. Deval Patrick for a proposed casino in Taunton but faces obstacles, including a requirement that the land be placed into federal trust.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission voted last year to also begin accepting casino applications from commercial developers in the southeast region while it monitors the tribe's progress in securing regulatory approval. KG Urban Enterprises is hoping to build a facility in nearby New Bedford.

Ken Fiola, head of the Fall River Office of Economic Development, said the project would not be a cure-all for the city's economic ills but "it could be a very important ingredient."

Foxwoods, which has already undergone a background check from the gaming commission and received a conditional suitability ruling, hopes to break ground in the spring of 2015, he said.

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