By SUSAN TEBBEN
The Ohio Racing Commission on Wednesday gave Austintown and Mahoning Valley officials the answer they’d sought for months by approving the transfer of a racing license for the Hollywood Slots at Mahoning Valley Race Course.
“It’s a fair compromise and a win-win for all involved,” said Eric Schippers, senior vice president of public affairs for Penn National Gaming.
The commission unanimously approved a resolution transferring the racing license from Beulah Park in Grove City to the Austintown racino, which will be located on 195 acres near Interstate 80 on state Route 46.
As one condition of the transfer, Penn National must submit a document showing intent of the company to finish both phase one and phase two of site plans, presented to the commission at its April 24 meeting, at the opening of the racetrack and casino.
The latest site plans include about 518 indoor seats with track views, an additional 242 indoor seats without direct track views and 650 outdoor bleacher seats.
Penn National must certify to the commission an opening seating capacity of more than 1,000 in view of live racing.
Officials from Penn National said the letter would be sent within the next few days.
The company has agreed to pay the state a $75 million relocation fee and a $50 million license fee for the Austintown project, plus pump another $125 million into construction of the facility. Penn National owns the 195-acre parcel, formerly zoned for a proposed industrial park, and has completed initial site work.
Penn National’s application can be reopened for review if the document is not submitted by June 15, according to the resolution. The racing commission also can review the application if the Ohio Lottery Commission does not approve the facility as a video-lottery terminal sales agent, the resolution states.
Up to 1,500 VLTs are planned for installation in the racino.
Local officials were on hand for the meeting and expressed their satisfaction at finally finishing one piece of the process.
“It’s been long; it’s been a rough road,” said state Rep. Robert Hagan of Youngstown, D-60th. “But the local people stuck to it, and now we’ll have the opportunity to bring jobs and … showcase our area.”
State Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd, said “snags” such as the hold-up in the license transfer can happen in the process of big projects, but that the outcome could have been a lot worse.
“I’m grateful they [the ORC and Penn National] worked out the issues they had and worked out a compromise,” Schiavoni said.
A four to six-month delay has been avoided with the vote, according to Penn National officials, and the construction process can begin again, Schippers said.
“We’re still hopeful we can hit our original goal, but it will be nothing close to the four to six-month delay,” Schippers said.
Austintown Township Trustee Jim Davis and former Austintown zoning inspector Darren Crivelli attended every racing commission meeting since the debate began and were glad to see the process move forward.
“I’m elated,” Davis said. “I couldn’t be happier for Austintown Township and for what this means to the Mahoning Valley.”