October 23, 2014
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Trillo pursues concept for world-class casino at Quonset

Rep. Joseph Trillo and Rep. John Carnevale recently toured Quonset Point and while Trillo says there are issues, he’s pursuing his proposal for a world-class casino on the former Naval base that he believes would create 20,000 jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars for state coffers.

Trillo said Tuesday he would be drafting a conceptual plan for a $2 billion casino that could outshine anything to be built at Gillette Stadium as well as what is already in Connecticut. His plan is to share the concept with other state legislators and build support.

“The only way of doing this,” he said, “is from the bottom up and let the ground swell happen.” He said action from the top down, meaning the legislative leadership, is not likely because of commitments to Twin River.

“I’m not going to let this go,” Trillo said of the casino that he first suggested last June. With the prospect of casinos being built in nearby Massachusetts and in particular what that could mean in reduced gaming revenues for the state, the proposal resurfaced several weeks ago.

“There could be a super casino on either side [of the state] and they would suck the dollars out of Rhode Island,” he said.

Carnevale (D-Providence, Johnston) has shared Trillo’s vision since before he got in office.

“I felt that way for probably 30 years that it should be there,” he said.

Carnevale was initially unaware that Trillo had plans to pursue a Quonset casino, but when he heard his colleague discussing the proposal on talk radio, he called him immediately. Carnevale’s brother, former State Rep. Anthony Carnevale, had pushed to legalize casino gambling back in the late 1970s.

“When he attempted that, they thought he was nuts back then. They found every reason to turn it down,” he said.

Trillo’s proposal calls for a facility larger than Foxwoods or what is being talked about at Foxboro at the stadium that would attract people from well beyond the region. What’s more, he said, Quonset offers easy access. He says the infrastructure is in place from the airport where the “high rollers” could land their jets to two 1,200-foot docks capable of berthing four cruise ships to direct highway connections, rail, a wastewater treatment plant, golf course and its own water system.

Carnevale believes that access and infrastructure, and in particular the deep natural port at Quonset, would give a casino a leg up on the competition.

Further, Trillo sees the development as bringing business to Newport and even Providence with high-speed water shuttles bringing casino visitors to both cities.

“We could be bringing business in, rather than taking it out,” he said.

His proposal calls for about 5 million square feet of space between various forms of development including the casino, hotels and indoor mini amusement park on about 125 acres. Development would be oriented to the shoreline.

The state would solicit proposals to build the project that would cover such issues as the number of jobs created, percentage of gaming dollars going to the state and a timetable for construction.

“The last time it blew up. They had a casino [operator] already in place,” he said of the Narragansett Indian proposal for a casino in West Warwick. He said the plan could also involve the Narragansetts and possibly Twin River. Providing he could muster the backing of fellow legislators, Trillo hopes to have a question on the November ballot, which if approved by voters, would allow for a casino.

The plan would first need to be approved by the North Kingstown Town Council. While Carnevale anticipates some pushback from residents, he believes the financial benefits the town stands to gain would likely outweigh opposition.

“Can they afford to say no?” he asked, pointing out that the town of Lincoln receives approximately $5 million from Twin River and North Kingstown could see even more revenues come their way if a casino were built.

Despite his passion for the project, Trillo consents there are challenges such as assembling the parcels of land he feels would be best situated for the development.

As he sees it, with enough money, leases could be bought out and existing companies could be moved.

Quonset Development Corporation spokesman David Preston said Trillo’s proposal faces real estate and policy questions. The policy question, he said, is up to the governor and legislative leaders. As for the real estate, he said 168 companies are currently located at Quonset and Davisville employing 8,800 people. Davisville Port is host to the country’s eighth largest auto importer operation with a projected 150,000 cars arriving by ship and an additional 50,000 by rail by the end of this year.

Trillo thinks that operation could be relocated without too much hassle.

Of the developable parcels, Preston said the largest is about 50 acres in West Davisville on the west side of Post Road. There are small sites down to a couple of acres scattered throughout Quonset and Davisville.

Not knowing the draft requirements for cruise ships, Preston questioned whether the channel would be deep enough to accommodate them. Further, he said dredging would be required to use the north side of the north dock.

Preston, who took Trillo and Carnevale on a tour of Quonset, said the corporation receives more than 100 proposals a year for developments.

He said the first criteria the corporation looks at are financing and whether the proposed development fits with the overall master plan.

Not having seen a proposal for a world-class casino, Preston was not prepared to comment.

Trillo said he plans to have drawings soon enough.

With reports from Meg Fraser


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