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Old 01-11-2010, 01:11 PM
Location: East Boston, MA
10,306 posts, read 18,401,332 times
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I have a question I'm hoping some of you in the Lehigh Valley forum could help me with. I live in Boston and am studying for my Master's in City Planning. I grew up about 45 minutes south of Boston in a region of Massachusetts called, the "Southcoast." One of the principle cities of this region is New Bedford. A company called KG Urban Enterprises is looking to build an urban casino on an old industrial site adjacent to the city's downtown core (Here is a photo slide-show (http://www.kgurbanadvisors.com/cannon_street_show/cannon_street_station.htm - broken link) put out by the developer). It's slated to be called the "Canon Street Station" (named for the Power Plant that once occupied the space).

I'm not familiar with Bethlehem at all, unfortunately; which is why I'm turning to you. I do know that it's a historic city with deep industrial roots. The same could be said for New Bedford which was once the epicenter of the Whaling Industry in the world (Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick about his experiences on a New Bedford Whaling Ship); and later, a national textile giant. Like Bethlehem, with the exodus of industry, many massive factories and plants were left vacant and abandoned and people left jobless. New Bedford has a very beautiful and historic downtown area (13 blocks of it are a national historic park), but it is still being revitalized. There are concerns about the Casino's potential impact on the area. The rest of the city is a mix of working and middle class with a large immigrant population and many historic neighborhoods.

KG Urban Enterprises turned the Bethlehem Steel property into the Sands casino. It's still relatively new, but how has it fared so far? I'm not trying to start a debate on the ethics of gambling. Of course, if crime has spiked, I'd be curious to see data on that; but otherwise, I am only interested in how the casino functions as an entity within the city.

The things I want to know are: Does it draw people and money into the city? If it does, do those people spend at city businesses (i.e. independent shops, restaurants, bars, etc) or do they just wall themselves off in the casino? Did the developers do a good job of blending the new casino into the existing urban fabric of the city or did they build it as an "island" that's disconnected from the rest of town. Is there any noticeable crime increase (or decrease)?

From a local standpoint, how do you feel it has impacted the region (beyond the added tax dollars) and the local economy?

I know this is lengthy, but I REALLY appreciate your insight. I'm not pro/against a casino at the moment and would really like to hear what you all have to say. New Bedford has two proposals... This one, and another just North of downtown along a principal highway. The one along the highway seems to be more of the typical "walled-off" resort with no ties to the city (even their own exit ramps). I doubt it would do anything to help local businesses. The KG proposal is south of downtown (meaning everyone entering/exiting the casino passes through downtown and is exposed to local businesses) and seems to tie in very nicely (as you can see in the slideshow) with the city's existing urban fabric according to the renderings and press releases from KG (but, you know what they say about something that seems to be "too good to be true." ). This is VERY important to the downtown area which has a large number of great, small businesses and is improving rapidly; but it's a delicate balance and the concern is that a massive casino may hurt that balance. On the other hand, if it does what the developers promise, it could be a great boost to the area. As someone with a lot of interest and experience in urban growth, I can see it going either way. That's why I'm fascinated about the Bethlehem casino... it's really the only decent comparison to the proposal in New Bedford.

It's hard to find something to compare the KG proposal in New Bedford to. Atlantic City is different in that it's designed around tourism whereas New Bedford is first and foremost a working class city. Vegas and Macau (China's casino epicenter) are entirely built around their casinos and tourism... New Bedford will have one casino (if legislation allows it) at most. Native American resort casinos (i.e. Foxwoods) aren't a good reference point either as they tend to be in isolated areas (not urban centers) and have different impacts and relationships with local business.

Bethlehem is a great point of comparison. It has a similar population to New Bedford and both cities are built on strong working class roots and even with the loss of industry have good industrial bones. Furthermore, the casino proposal for New Bedford is slated to be done by the same people who did the casino in Bethlehem AND it's a renovation of an existing industrial site.

Anyway, anything you can let me know is much appreciated!

Last edited by lrfox; 01-11-2010 at 01:23 PM..
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Old 01-11-2010, 03:59 PM
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From what you describe, the proposal you mention seems pretty similar to what was built in Bethlehem.

Before the casino went in, there were naysayers left and right saying how it would be the downfall of Bethlehem, all sorts of evil, cause traffic nightmares, the end of the world, etc. None of that ever materialized. The city is rolling in all kinds of tax and fee dollars from the casino. Working class local people now have jobs. Sure, they aren't high paying, but we're not talking about people with MBA's here. Now that table games were just approved, they will be hiriing many more.

I believe the crime has been limited to casino-specific events. Meaning some old lady steals coins from another at the slot machines, someone has too much to drink and causes a disturbance, drunk person tries to get behind the wheel of their car and falls asleep, etc. The locals aren't exactly holding casino patrons at gunpoint or anything crazy like that.

If that casino wasn't built, that land and the abandoned structures on it would likely sit rotting for another 25+ years. It is sort off on its own about a mile or so from downtown. Not really walkable to downtown for the typical casino demographic, but the city does run shuttles between downtown and the casino. Like other casinos however, they want to keep their customers inside, and not spending money in non-casino restaurantsm etc. It is probably difficult to estimate how much more restaurants and shops are making now that the casino is open, since downtown Bethlehem was already a pretty strong draw for regional tourists and locals.

The only negative I personally observed was that during the first 2 weeks it was open, traffic was a bit of a mess, but this has calmed down since to the point it's not really noticeable most of the time. The key seems to be getting the road widening, new roads, etc. done before it opens.
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Old 01-11-2010, 07:15 PM
Location: East Boston, MA
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Hey, thanks for the detailed response!

What you describe sounds like what's happening over this way. Naysayers are predicting skyrocketing crime and addictions in addition to too much traffic. The plan is to fix the road to accommodate the traffic before any casino goes in. I'm surprised Bethlehem waited to fix the roads... did they initially feel the road was sufficient? I also didn't know that it started as just slots, the table games will help make it more of a destination. The reviews of the facilities at Bethlehem that I've read (Yelp.com, etc) have been quite good and people are seeing ads as far away as Philly, New York City and New Jersey. I don't know what kind of tourism base Bethlehem had beforehand (I do know it has a very nice, highly regarded downtown area), but some reviews mentioned seeing more "out of state" license plates in town than they had seen before, any truth to that?

The job thing is a major plus. Of course low-paying jobs are better than no jobs. New Bedford has relatively high unemployment and a mostly working-class population base. The jobs created would be great. Sure, high-tech industry and corporate jobs are great, but they're not exactly knocking down the door to get into cities like New Bedford (again, I don't know about Bethlehem). Hundreds of jobs created in a small city that's struggling is hard to just blow off.

I'm glad to hear that crime doesn't seem to be too bad. I think what you describe is to be expected at a casino. That's not to say it's O.K., but it's better than much of what the opposition fears.

Downtown New Bedford is a good tourism draw and is pretty established what with a bunch of museums, galleries, restaurants, and the National Historic Park. I wouldn't call it super strong (from what I hear, downtown Bethlehem seems to be quite active/strong), but it's functioning well. I'm sure it'll take more time to see what the Casino's effect on the downtown business core of Bethlehem is, but I'm guessing that if it was doing well before, it won't take too much of a hit (local businesses fulfill a different niche than the chains created by the casino). I hope that the casino's efforts to keep people at the tables/slots don't keep people out of the downtown area.

Anyway, thanks for the insight. With all of the bickering from both sides and all the speculation (I'm sure you remember what it was like), it's nice to hear from people who have already been through it.

I should mention that if I get enough information through various sources (including city-data), I'm probably going to be writing an article for a New Bedford Newspaper- The New Bedford Standard Times- (not getting paid to do this... class credit) about Bethlehem's Casino and how the city is faring since the opening. If I do, I'll probably come back and ask if it's O.K. to quote a few posts. Hopefully I'll get a few more responses! Thanks again for the reply.
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Old 01-11-2010, 08:33 PM
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Also note that the hotel at the Sands isn't open yet. The built the shell and stopped because Sands is low on funding right now, the economy stinks, etc. So if you want to stay overnight you have a choice of a couple hotels that are a 5-minute drive away.

As for the clientele, I think it's a mix of locals and people from an hour + away. I usually drive by on weekend afternoons and see lots of old people in Cadillacs and Buicks with NJ and NY plates pulling in. I also know many locals who go there too.

I don't gamble myself, but I've gone there a few times for the restaurants. Emeril's Chop House, which is ridiculously expensive, can actually be hard to get a reservation at on the weekends.

I've also noticed that many of the Atlantic City casinos are now advertising on local billboards, especially on I-78 just east of Bethlehem. I think the Sands is cutting into their business pretty hard right now. One local I know who used to go to AC every month is now going to the Sands every weekend. I think he figures what he saves on gas and hotel rooms gives leaves him with more money to gamble with.
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Old 01-12-2010, 05:40 PM
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I live in Bethlehem and was very very concerned when I heard they were planning on building the Sands. I grew up in NYC and moved away from it all. I told my hubby if it gets bad we will have to move again. Well needless to say it is not bad at all. I do read about petty crimes that happen in the casino in the local newspaper but that is about it. I am sure the city is benefiting tremendously with the money it is receiving. The first couple of weeks the traffic was bad in that area. After that no problems, they did widen the roads. I have not noticed an increase in crime in the city. Us taxpayers are supposed to benefit with the money they collect from the casino, I think I read somewhere it would eventually lower our property taxes which would be great. I don't see any more traffic in my neighborhood then what I consider normal. This city was hit pretty hard with unemployment and I believe the Sands created something like 1,000 jobs. If and when the tables come, it will add a ton more jobs. The hotel is currently on hold but that too would create a lot more jobs as well. Overall I am now happy that the Casino came, me and my hubby go there on occasion and find it nice and clean, the food is good and overall it is good for the economy of this city.
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Old 01-12-2010, 09:06 PM
Location: East Boston, MA
10,306 posts, read 18,401,332 times
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Thanks again for the responses.

I didn't know the hotel wasn't open. The plan here is for a major hotel (actually two) to be included too. I'm willing to bet that will bring a bunch more people in as well as create more jobs when it does get built in Bethlehem.

Interesting about Emeril's Chop House. I've only been to one Emeril restaurant (Orlando) and it was good. I'm sure that would HAVE to be part of the deal in New Bedford. Emeril grew up and began his career working in New Bedford area (Mostly Fall River) restaurants. I'd imagine that he'd be thrilled to get a restaurant in his home town. On a related note, have any of the restaurants either benefited or been hurt by the restaurants at the Casino? I'm thinking that they could benefit from the overflow of the popular casino resorts but they could also lose clientèle to the glitzy casino eateries. Maybe it's too early to tell.

I bet the local hotels are thrilled with the fact that the Sands hotel hasn't opened. They must be doing a great bit of business even if the majority of visitors are somewhat local. Bethlehem seems to be in a great location for this sort of thing... just over an hour from both New York and Philly. New Bedford's 50 minutes from Boston and 25 from Providence but it just doesn't have the same population base to draw from (then again, it's not competing with Atlantic City... Only Foxwoods is nearby).

Valentine, I'm sure you weren't alone. A lot of people in the New Bedford area are quite concerned too. I'm glad to hear that it's not as bad as you expected. Petty crime is still crime, but as long as it's under control, it may be worth it as a trade off for increased tax revenue (and lower tax burden for the populous). New Bedford is in a similar boat in terms of unemployment. Jobs need to be created, some are just skeptical about whether or not a Casino is the way to get them.

I'm glad (and surprised) to hear two pretty positive reviews. Thanks so much for the responses.
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Old 01-13-2010, 03:52 AM
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Im not sure if any local restaurants have benefited or been hurt by the casino. There really is nothing in that immediate area for the casino to compete with. I also give a lot of credit to our Mayor he is fantastic!
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Old 01-13-2010, 06:46 AM
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I live about 15 minutes from Bethlehem and like many people, I was not happy to hear about the casino coming to town. I am opposed to gambling in general and question the morality of the entire business of people throwing their money away and expecting to be rewarded. I did not like how the whole set-up seemed to be decided by a select few people without public support. It was not as if the people of Bethlehem were clamoring for a casino.

Now that it's been built, it does not seem as obtrusive as I had envisioned. I visited once with some friends and even gambled away a whole five dollars. I still don't get that allure. However, the chop house was fantastic and that was worth the trip. If you go on the tripadvisor website, you'll see that the gamblers like the Casino quite a bit but they never talk about anything else in the area. I believe that most out-of-town people go directly to the casino, eat there, gamble and go home. Once the hotel is built, we can add sleep to the list of things they will do. I doubt that many of them will take the time to walk down main street or visit any of the restaurants, bars or coffee shops.

I have a few local friends that gamble there regularly and they also do not take the time to go into town while they are in Bethlehem. They go, they gamble, and they come home.
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Old 01-14-2010, 10:21 AM
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Yes I think most people just come, gamble, and go home. I know that's what I've done when I've visited places like Mohegan Sun or Foxwood.
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Old 01-16-2010, 06:38 AM
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I along with others have vowed to just ignore the Casino. I was sucked in for a bit, but the machines are rigged and there's no way to win big. Therefore, I am done. I pass by everyday on the way to work, but I will not enter the premises again.
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