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Austintown racino on hold



Published: Thu, March 28, 2013 @ 12:01 a.m.

By MARC KOVAC

news@vindy.com

COLUMBUS

Austintown Township officials expressed frustration at yet another state setback for construction of a Valley racino, saying requirements for more seating will set the process back by months.

Penn National Gaming officials said they will go back to the drawing board on plans for the new racino in the township, after the Ohio State Racing Commission declined to OK a relocation permit.

Instead, the commission told the company to nearly double the number of indoor seats at the facility.

The decision means a delay of four to six months or more in the construction of the Hollywood Mahoning Valley Race Course and the track’s anticipated opening date in 2014.

“It’s frustrating because we were ready to reward about $4 million worth of steel and foundation contracts ... and we’re not going to be able to move ahead with that, obviously, because we now have to go create new plans and come back to the commission at some point in the future to get permission,” Bob Tenenbaum, Penn National spokesman, said after the decision Wednesday.

He added, “In terms of commitment to these projects, we are still committed, but we are going to have to stop construction and regroup and go back to the drawing board and come up with some new plans. And that’s going to take months, and that’s going to delay the projects. It’s going to delay the jobs.”

Penn National has been working for months to gain racing commission approval to relocate two of its existing horse tracks to Austintown and Dayton from suburban Columbus and Toledo, respectively.

The company has agreed to pay the state a $75 million relocation fee and $50 million license fee for each project, plus pump $125 million into each new facility, with space for horse racing and thousands of state lottery-administered electronic slots.

Penn already owns a 195-acre parcel in Mahoning County, formerly zoned for a proposed Austintown industrial park, and has completed initial site work.

Company representatives have appeared before the state racing commission three times in as many weeks with hopes of gaining approval for the relocations. But commissioners have repeatedly voiced concern about the number of indoor seats with views of the racetrack.

“We continue to have real concerns about amenities for the horse racing fans,” said Commissioner Mark Munroe. “I’m from the Mahoning Valley. In fact, I lived in Austintown for a period of time. ... There’s a lot of buzz in the community about this racetrack. Nothing would disappoint me more than to find out that we’ve got fans who want to come and view horse racing and be disappointed because there aren’t sufficient seats....”

He added, “I understand that you’re on a tight time frame. Believe me, we want to see this project launched as soon as possible.”

Austintown Trustee Jim Davis and zoning inspector Darren Crivelli attended the meeting and spoke to Munroe after the 4-0 vote to require more seats. Davis said he felt the commission’s process was “dysfunctional” and told this to the commissioners.

“I expressed my displeasure with the commission and with what loopholes the process has,” Davis said. “This whole process has been a guessing game for Penn National. They’ve never been given a definitive number of seats or been told what’s required of them.”

The 650 indoor seats sought by the commission seem like an arbitrary number to Davis and Crivelli, who maintained that Penn National had done studies and come to the number of seats based on consumer activity at other racinos. “It’s in Penn National’s best interest to maintain that [original] architectural footprint,” Crivelli said.

Davis said he spoke privately to Munroe, telling him he hoped Munroe would be a “liaison for this project” and help lobby the commission to move the project along. The hope was that Munroe would discuss it with the board before its April 18 meeting.

“Penn National doesn’t want to have to add those seats,” Davis said. “What Mr. Munroe is acceptable to, what he said was, ‘Show me plans that show you could add 650 seats if you wanted to.’”

But Munroe said the unanimous vote of the commission requires the seats to be present in the plan. He said he told Davis that he would be glad to consider other ideas and strategies along with the seating changes.

“I’d be glad to look at anything, but [Penn National’s] plans as they currently stand are inadequate,” Munroe said.

In response to racing commission comments, Penn has changed configurations and enclosed an area to boost the number of indoor seats. According to projections released Wednesday, the new racino will have 518 indoor seats with views of the track, 242 indoor seats without track views and 650 outdoor bleacher seats at trackside.

But the indoor seating options still were not adequate for racing commission members Wednesday, noting that the track will offer live racing over 75 days annually, from Oct. 15-April 15.

“You’ve got to be a heck of a race fan or any kind of fan to sit outside in the bleachers in December, January, February ...,” said Commissioner William Koester. “No one’s going to sit in those seats.”

Instead of signing off on the relocation permit, the commission moved to require Penn to add hundreds of indoor seats to its plans.

“We’d like to see another 650 seats that are enclosed,” said commission Chairman Robert Schmitz. “How you come about that or how you do it is obviously a challenge for you.”

Steve Snyder, senior vice president of corporate development, said the seating is comparable to other Penn tracks and likely will meet demand.

“Penn National is the largest operator of pari-mutuel wagering horse tracks in the country,” Tenenbaum added. “What we proposed is based on our experience studying the market and what we felt the market would bear and what the demand would be in the local market.”

Snyder said no additional seats could be added under the existing design. He said the company has been “scurrying” to address racing commission concerns, but he criticized the “arbitrary seat count” members have set and reset in recent weeks.

“This process is broken,” he said, adding, “To honor your request, these projects, these jobs, this investment in Ohio will be delayed by six months or more.”

Contributor:Vindicator staff writer Susan Tebben


Comments

1Knightcap(683 comments)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

Munroe is dead wrong on this. No offense to Bruce Zolden but the Phatoms will have more fans than a horse race in Austintown. Just go down to Mountaineer on a nice sunny day. There's probably 75 spectators in the bleachers and outside bar area to watch a race. There are thousands at the slots, simulcast racing and buffet line. Maybe if you had the Ohio Derby here you might get more fans than an Austintown Little Falcons game. Government red tape and politics have been known to screw up a lot of things around here. I'm glad to see the republicans getting into the corrupt game now. " If the U.S. government owned the Sahara desert, we would have a shortage of sand in five years". - Ronald Reagan

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2sc7422(23 comments)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

Munroe is an idiot. He needs to go away. Some Democrat probably made him mad and now he is getting back at them. This Racino is a great thing for Austintown and a great thing for the Mahoning Valley. Unfortunately it may never happen now! GO AWAY MARK MUNROE!!!! No one cares for you!

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3hmm(179 comments)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

Maybe some one should check the attendence at the fair grounds when Para mutual is run ..... Might be a good indicator... What happened to provide the land and they will come ...... OR Penn National. Youngstown has a lot of Brown fields right off the freeway .... Come on down if Austintown isn't agreeable with your RESEARCH and plans ...

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4lee(544 comments)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

Just another example of Govt. interference. STOP IT!!!

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5exlonghorn(35 comments)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

What in Munroe's background/resume' makes him an expert on such an issue?
I agree, I think he is trying to stick his finger in the eye of a political foe(s). Welcome to Mahoning County Penn National.. ,part of me would like to see them extend a middle finger and walk away.

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6busyman(239 comments)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

We are experiencing the civil war between the Democrats and Republicans at the local level. If the republican party keeps this up trying to derail projects that brings jobs to an area that suffered for decades, than they will never regain their ability to get their canidate elected. I do not even think that Kacik likes this guy.

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7UNCOMMONSENSE(354 comments)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

Well the Mahoning Valley has Munroe, a republican to thank for hindering the investment of millions in Austintown. Imagine that, a republican, yes a republican!

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8Cubbies(37 comments)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

The only time Mountaineer Race Track is packed is on the day of the West Virginia Derby. 650 more seats? Please... Apparently, somebody's palms have not been greased enough. When this happens, the track will be ok'd....

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9vinglass(224 comments)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

Munroe is a Sonny Smith flunky, always was and always will be. Whatever his plan is, he is acting at the bidding of Sonny

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10valleypolitics(88 comments)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

Monroe is a jackass puppet of many people and another political figure that ought to be taken away in handcuffs by the FBI.

But what about Gerberry? He campaigned last year on how HE brought the racino to Austintown! Where's his leadership now??? It's long over due that Gerberry needs to go, the biggest fake in Mahoning County politics.

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11zz3(921 comments)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

I knew this would happen and valleypolitics your right. We need to get these jerks off their as@#$ and get this casino for us!!! But that would require work and go forbid that!!! If we lose this we better just close the doors around here because this has to be the most business unfriendly area I've ever seen!!! Stand up for these jobs call Gerberry and all the others and secure this before PA gets it. Keep it up they'll level the ground and go somewhere else!! Get on the phones

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12mrblue(969 comments)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

Penn National will only take so much and then they will drop the project. This area will lose hundreds of jobs because of politics. So sad!

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13xytown(63 comments)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

Penn National couldn't make any money in Columbus so they left. What makes everyone think it will make it in Austintown? Wait until Union-Labor Picketers demonstrate because the construction crews are not unionized and they put the big rat up in front. The limited jobs will be just above min. wage.

This thing is a loser before they break ground. Look at what gambling has done for the Valley over the last 20 years. Sad!!!

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14zz3(921 comments)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

I think someone a commissioner in Trumbull county i think that said that the Eastwood Field would be bad for the area too!! Thank god nobody listened to him. Please you naysayers make a call to Cleveland and tell them they are losing money! You'll be laughed off the phone!! Oh ya also call Weirton, WVA, Seneca, NY, Presque Isle... are ya tired yet???xytown your all wet and how about actually visiting and asking questions of these places and you might learn something, go early though they are packed!!! Look at the license plates thats the kicker, trumbull, mahoning, columbiana, etc. Build it and they will come. Minimum wage are you serious do you know anyone who works there?? No!! They make more than minimum wage and have benefits.

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15Lifes2Short(3875 comments)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

More then 650 seats? Is this idiot serious? Be lucky if 50 people show up after all the hoopla of the Grand Opening is over. Talk about a fool.

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16walter_sobchak(1857 comments)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

SInce I work for a company that has bid on this project, myquestion would be to Penn National and their architects: If you know that your plans must be reviewed and approved by the Ohio State racing Commission as a contingency for getting a relocation permit for the racetrack license, how do you get this far in your plan development before this question of indoor seating causes a 4 to 6 month delay? I mean, the steel and foundation packages are set to be awarded and just now this is an issue? When we saw the plans, we couldn't believe the lack of indoor seating. The commission voted it down unanimously. Unless someone can produce a document indicating the minimal quantity of indoor seating, this is very poor planning. The racing commission wants to have a nice racetrack and facility, as would seem obvious, they want more seats. Do your job and add more seats.

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17fudputer(45 comments)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

having lived and visited most of the tracks in the southern calif area--hollywood,del-mar- santa anita-very seldom do you see the seats filled. (650) in youngstown-???? maybe twice a yr.- kentucky derby and breeders cup--mostly though-you;ll see as in all tracks maybe( 150) daily die-hards..its a hobby---how many of you can get to the track everyday-you have to make money to bet.seems to me someones waiting to fill their own pocketbook and i dont mean by betting>>>>>>>>>>>>good old youngstown politics

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18UNCOMMONSENSE(354 comments)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

I would like to see the commissions factual statistics supporting their claim for additional seating. At a minimum it would include seating capacities and seating occupancy at comparable tracks.
As the representative from Penn National stated, they keep raising the bar every time we come back to the table. If I was Penn National, I would pick up my chips and head to New Castle, PA and build my track.

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19fudputer(45 comments)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

uncommonsense--boy you have that right!!!!!!

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20franklee(6 comments)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

Are you kidding me--seating?? That's the least of our town's or the commission's problems. Why is Penn National financing and managing a facility just a few miles away in PA. It will kill our racetrack. They should pick Austintown over that track or give the license to some other company!!

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21rgp2585(67 comments)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

Not enough $$$$$$$$ passed around in Columbus!!!!!!!!!!!

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22formerdemliberal(182 comments)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

Disappointing, but not surprising, to see a Republican leader playing the traditional Democratic game of using government bureaucracy to tell experienced private sector executives how to run their companies. Nor is it surprising that it appears Mr. Munroe is playing the same sort of cronyism politics that Democrats have practiced for decades in courting union initiatives.

If Mr. Munroe and his fellow commission members were truly concerned about delays resulting from seating arrangements at the racino, why not proactively arrange meetings to collaborate with Penn National officials about seating differences PRIOR to the commission's scheduled public meeting? Perhaps this project delay could have been prevented or at least given commission members the opportunity to have a more credible reason for their delay request.

I believe that the ball is still in the commission's court to quickly revise their seating request downward to a more feasible, or original, level to reduce the damage from engineering design, construction and hiring delays that have affected hundreds of local households.

Perhaps it is time for county Republicans to consider new leadership that better publicly reflects their philosophies of less government intrusion into private industry and advocacy for economic development. Despite significant momentum after the first 2012 presidential debate, Mr. Munroe failed to make significant inroads into Democratic voting percentages in the recent presidential election. He has created little progress for potential countywide Republican candidates seeking local, particularly countywide, political offices.

If I were Governor Kasich, I would be very concerned about Mr. Munroe's leadership ability to even maintain the governor's current minority voter base in Mahoning County, particularly after his association with the racino delay that flies in the face of Mr. Kasich's public philosophy of business/government cooperation to improve Ohio's economy.

After this decision, I do not believe that Mr. Munroe can serve as a credible advocate for the Republican mantra of less government interference and more job creation. His perceived conflict-of-interest and association with the racino delay will have long-term ramifications for any Republican (state or local) campaigning in this area for changing local culture that begins to realize the benefits of working with, rather than against, private business.

Be it Dem (Bobby Hagan) or Repub (Mr. Munroe), some area politicians have yet to learn how to apply the fundamental lesson that working with businesses can produce more favorable economic and employment opportunities for this entire area?

I can almost see Dave Betrus smiling at the irony of having his Republican counterpart perceived to be impeding local business development. Mr. Munroe has naively made Mr. Betrus's Democratic message much easier to sell the the local electorate.

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23Iona(10 comments)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

I agree with the previous poster who said "Do your job and add the seats." The only reason the "casino" part is being allowed is because of the horsetrack. Why wouldn't a racing commissioner look out for the best interests of the racing? It's the same scenario with the Toledo/Dayton switch. And, it's not just seating--it's stalls and other racing related amenities that are being scrimped on.

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24INTEL(61 comments)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

This project will be just like the CAC.. (commucator aircraft corporation) plant that was built in Younstown Reginal Airport back in the 70's...there was not one single plane built in that location... this Mahoning Valley project will be the same way.. .it will be under massive demands and then the owners will walk away... just watch and see...but a handful of people will walk away like fat kats.... just wait and see...

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25zz3(921 comments)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

Intel get serious,you remind me of the trumbull commissioner as i mentioned above "HATED" the Eastwood Field and the damage it would cause!! Sound familiar?? Sound like another BS excuse for no casino. Has there been a casino built that did not open?? Do you know of any local casinos losing money? Do you remember what Weirton, WVA used to look like and the past employment there? I didn't think so!! It makes no sense! These people make money, our locals (citizens too) turn it away! No wonder our area is so stifled!! Its the(hipocratic) people that hate it, but will be driving around the parking lot of Mountaineer searching for a parking lot!!

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26Bigben(1996 comments)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

zz - You think racing is doing well in W Va? They are moving here because it failed at its former location so no these establishments do not always do well.

And no I wasn't opposed to the ball field in Trumbull county. Comparing a ball field to a gambling establishment is not apples to apples.

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27Iona(10 comments)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

Bigben--What W Va track do you mean when you say "You think racing is doing well in W Va? They are moving here because it failed at its former location"? Penn National wants to move Beulah Racetrack, which is in Ohio, to Austintown.

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28zz3(921 comments)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

Lona good point but people in economic denial for business wanting to come here will never change their mind. After all your dealing with people that say employment will hurt are "fine" area!! Can you believe it. Like I said the "Denial" people will never get it but they will take any positive things that will come out of it. And "bigben" in a "business mind" it is apples to apples you just can't grasp it. Here's a hint: It starts with a capitol E and ends with a t. Hint: also referred to as jobs. Its Employment. I did not want to ruin your day tryin to figure that one out.Please bring the jobs we have the people

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29Bigben(1996 comments)posted 1 year, 3 months ago

Iona I don't think racing is doing well in W VA.

"Penn National wants to move Beulah Racetrack, which is in Ohio, to Austintown." -- That was point that is this type of racing isn't doing well not in W VA nor in Ohio. So why bring more of the same here?

zz3And "bigben" "in a "business mind" it is apples to apples you just can't grasp it. "First your wrong I was in favor of the ball field. A ball field and a gambling establishment are very different. I get they are both businesses however, I believed the ball field would be good for the community and would be profitable.See I will explain it in terms you maybe able to comprehend. A prostitute and a virgin are both women but they are very different.

A racino in which no one wants to see racing at on the other hand I do not believe will be good for the community and if it were successful it wouldn't need to leave its former location to come here. That is common sense which you seem to be lacking along with tact and manners.

As for this thing bringing lots of jobs your drinking the kool aid on that one. The construction work will be temporary and can you say for a fact that only locals will be doing all the temporary construction jobs ? How about the casino jobs?

Remember how fracking was going to be the next great employer in the area ? Then they told us no there just aren't enough folks that live here that aren't on drugs. See when an area acts like a prostitute they get treated like one when it acts like a virtuous women they are treated accordingly.

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30candystriper(575 comments)posted 1 year, 3 months ago

Expansion in Asia is what keeps Las Vegas going today. Penn's M Resort is struggling and the hotel CEO is planning to run for political office.
He seems to be afraid of online gaming...perhaps Penn is afraid of it as well.

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