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Casino would create jobs, keep ‘bucolic’ feel, pair

By Casey Ross and Noah Bierman
Globe Staff / December 6, 2011
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A $1 billion casino resort across from Gillette Stadium would include a luxury hotel, gambling hall, shops, restaurants, and convention space that its developers insisted would still feel as if it “fits in the woods’’ of Foxborough.

That was the pitch from casino mogul Steve Wynn and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who made a joint appearance in Foxborough yesterday to argue that the casino would be an economic engine for the town and region.

Unlike his skyscraper-high casinos in Las Vegas, Wynn said, the Foxborough resort would contain low- to midrise buildings no taller than the 200-foot high Gillette Stadium. “What is appropriate for Las Vegas would be completely out of scale and inappropriate in Massachusetts,’’ he said.

However, since there are few tall buildings in the surrounding area, a casino 200 feet tall would tower over the surrounding suburban landscape, which includes mostly one- and two-story retail shops and parking lots along Route 1.

Kraft had initially tried to develop an office complex for life sciences and technology companies on the property, but failed to move forward with that plan. That caused him to begin looking at other options, and he said the partnership with Wynn offers the best opportunity to create jobs.

Wynn, who owns and operates massive casinos in Las Vegas and in Macau off mainland China, said he originally approached Kraft about the idea about six months ago.

Under the new casino law in Massachusetts, developers must get approval from their host communities to build gambling facilities, and that may be one of the biggest obstacles facing the Wynn-Kraft team.

In an interview with the Globe yesterday, the two executives seemed intent on addressing the concerns of Foxborough’s 16,865 residents more than any other audience. Kraft and Wynn held interviews with several news organizations in a television studio inside Gillette Stadium, and the sessions with reporters were filmed by The Kraft Group, the business entity negotiating the casino proposal. A spokesman said the company intends to have the footage aired on Foxborough’s local cable channel or used in other efforts related to the project.

The two executives promised to build a facility that would generate business activity and tax dollars for the community, while protecting what they called Foxborough’s bucolic character.

“We see this as a destination resort that will attract people from all over America and all over the world that will want to come here and have conventions and have meeting spaces and have a good time,’’ Kraft said, adding that visitors would “leave a lot of revenue here that will spill over to both Foxborough and the surrounding towns.’’

The town of Foxborough has been skeptical of gambling for years, and some residents held a protest over the weekend to express concern about hosting a casino. Foxborough’s Town Meeting would need to approve any zoning changes for a casino by a two-thirds vote.

But Kraft promised that local residents “and their offspring’’ would have a priority in getting a job at the new resort. He made a personal appeal, saying that Foxborough is “like my hometown’’ and that he had a special message for the mothers of the town.

“We’ve had a 25-year relationship,’’ he said. “Unless we can satisfy the mothers and the people here that this is in the best interest in the community, then we don’t want to do it.’’

During their 30-minute interview with the Globe, Wynn and Kraft only took four questions. Kraft cut off a fifth question about whether the National Football League’s image would be tarnished by the association with a casino. “Now we’re 10 minutes late,’’ he said, declining to answer.

NFL rules prohibit teams from owning or operating casinos, but Kraft suggested that his arrangement with Wynn would not violate those policies. He said he would be leasing his land to Wynn at a fixed rent, so his company, The Kraft Group, would neither benefit nor be harmed by the casino’s performance.

“It’s just like Staples coming in and renting space from us,’’ said Kraft, who is chief executive of The Kraft Group, which owns businesses in real estate, sports, paper and packaging, philanthropy, and other sectors.

The NFL said in a statement that it has not received a proposal from Kraft, but will review it for compliance with league policies if and when it does.

Wynn - who mixed his casino pitch with reminiscences of boyhood visits to Revere, where his parents were born - took pains to downplay the role of gambling in his company. He focused instead on how that part of his business gives him the opportunity to build extravagant entertainment facilities.

“The casino helps pay for it,’’ he said “That’s really what casinos have meant to me for the past 40 years, a chance to build dancing waters and fountains and volcanoes that erupt, tigers and sharks that swim behind the front desk.’’

Wynn’s casinos have set new standards for opulence in the industry. One of his latest projects, Wynn Las Vegas, is set in a 50-story tower that features 22 restaurants, a long list of luxury clothiers, a Maserati and Ferrari dealership, and a water spectacle called “The Dream.’’

As he described it, a casino in Foxborough would include a long promenade lined with shops and restaurants, convention and meeting rooms, and a luxury hotel. He said the casino would be tucked behind “a blind at the door so that children and families . . . can’t see the equipment.’’

“In talking with some of the people in Foxborough, I noticed that that they were frightened’’ by gambling facilities, Wynn said, promising that his casino would be unlike anything they have ever seen. He also stressed that the success of his facilities is based on treating his employees well, because that translates into treating customers well.

“We build beautiful places, but it isn’t about chandeliers and hand-woven carpets or marble or onyx,’’ he said. “What really creates success in the hospitality business are people.’’

Kraft said he is not proposing a casino to build his personal wealth, but to leave a legacy that will benefit the community.

“I’m not driven by making money, because basically whatever money I make from here on in is going to charity or the US government is going to take it,’’ he said. He added later: “I’d like to see this town win in every way, not just Super Bowl championships. I want it to have the best school system. I’d like to think that housing values here will continue to appreciate and that this special bucolic town, stays special. You can’t do that if you don’t have economic vitality.’’

Kraft emphasized that he will drop the proposal if he and Wynn are not able to resolve concerns of residents. “If we can’t solve them, then we shouldn’t do this deal,’’ he said. “We’ll walk away, because both of us have plenty to do.’’

Casey Ross can be reached at cross@globe.com.

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