Residents come out in droves for marathon meeting on proposed Concord casino

  • Andy Sanborn, former state senator and owner of Draft Sports Bar & Grill and the Concord Casino, a small-scale charitable gaming operation in downtown Concord, has proposed a 43,000-square-foot casino, bar and hotel on the city's east side.

  • Andy Sanborn, former state senator and owner of Draft Sports Bar & Grill and the Concord Casino, a small-scale charitable gaming operation in downtown Concord, has proposed a 43,000-square-foot casino, bar and hotel on the city's east side.

Monitor staff
Published: 2/16/2023 5:51:32 PM

Dozens of residents turned out Wednesday night to further oppose the construction of a 43,000-square-foot casino, bar and hotel on the city’s east side. 

As planning board discussions approached midnight, members agreed to continue the public hearing for the second time in as many months, moving further discussion to its March 15 meeting.

Most citizen comments expressed concern for the development – whether it was traffic, environmental impact, the scourge that comes along with gambling or the further commercialization of the Heights neighborhood.   

Several spoke in support of the project, especially the 35% in revenue generated from charitable gaming operations that gets donated to charities, like animal shelters, youth sports programs and support for veteran and homeless services. 

Last month, boards members asked developers to include more green space in their proposal, which has since been increased from 5% to 10% in the first phase of the project and 7% to 11.5% in the second phase of the project to include oversized islands with plantings, rows of deciduous and evergreen trees planted along roadways, and ornamental grasses between the parking areas. 

Board members asked the public to keep their comments to under five minutes. 

Judith Kurtz of the Concord Greenspace Coalition presented the board with a petition with 150 signatures in opposition to the plans, and the number of signors increased throughout the course of the meeting, she said. 

She presented the board with police reports from 2018 and 2022 showing that The Draft Bar & Grill, which is owned and operated by Sandborn and hosts as a small-scale charitable gaming facility, generated 131 calls, 61 of which were of a criminal or assault nature whereas Buffalo Wild Wings, a wing restaurant, generated 114 calls, 37 of which were of a criminal or assault nature.

“That is almost double the calls from The Draft, which is a significantly smaller establishment,” Kurtz said. “I would like to request that the board review police reports from similar towns, like Belmont and Manchester.”

Continuing, she expressed concern for the future of the space if the casino and accompanying venues were to fail. Her concerns were echoed by other residents who commented on the once-bustling but now-vacant Steeplegate Mall. 

“This is a short-sighted solution for bringing in new revenue,” said Thomas Sideris. “When the newness and the novelty wears off, what is the Sandborn group going to do? Unfortunately, many of you who live on the east of the river had had an attitude toward my part of town for the last 35 years that anything goes on the east side and I hope this doesn’t happen again.”

Sideris, who gave his testimony after 11 p.m., received applause as he returned to his seat.

Other residents testified that the traffic study conducted by engineers was a misrepresentation of the volume of traffic already in the area and requested they complete another study outside of normal business hours to account for the number of commercial vehicles that travel in the area.

“Traffic is not going to be minimally impacted; I work from home and I’m on the roads more often than other people in the community who commute to work and back,” said Cassie Raymond. “I have concerns about event parking letting out and the overflow of traffic onto Loudon Road, there’s no light at that intersection and people will be taking risky moves to get out of there.”

Others welcomed the proposal.

“I would like to speak in favor of the casino; it’ll bring good tax revenue and good jobs,” said Charles McGee. “As for the traffic, may I remind you that at one time, there was a very busy mall down the street that didn’t cause any major traffic jams. I don’t see it being a problem and it’s life-changing for these non-profits.”

Many in favor of the project spoke on behalf of their own non-profits and praised the efforts of Sandborn and other like-minded business people donating funds to organizations and underprivileged groups. 

With the help of casinos and community donations, youth on the American Legion Baseball team haven’t had to pay for their equipment, travel and other expenses, said Carl Nolin, who runs the legion in Concord. 

Jeff Smart said he has funded scholarships for high school and college students with the money he’s received from casinos and hopes to expand and continue to help the community. 

Hundreds of dogs and cats have had their lives saved and found their forever homes with the help of the animal shelter, said Siri Pellegrino, who works with a non-profit that helps pay the expenses for animals’ medical procedures, fostering, rescue and re-homing fees. 

But Tim Robson believes the city and state should be doing more to fund charities and non-profit organizations, rather than using revenues earned from gamblers who lose their bets.

“I am entirely disappointed that we have legislation that allows casinos. We’re better than this,” he said. “We shouldn’t be funding charities and support services that should be paid for by regular taxes. It’s corrupting and it’s a regressive taxation system.”

If approved, the first phase of the project, which was determined complete and granted conditional approval last month, would be a 24,000-square-food gaming room with 634 seats and an 8,500-square-foot restaurant and brew-pub that can hold up  to 150 diners. The new building would be located near the intersection of Loudon and Sheep Davis roads and close to Interstate 393 off a small street named Break O’Day Drive. Future plans call for a hotel and event center. 

In closing public comment, Concord City Planner Heather Shank asked to continue the public hearing and request that Concord, Pembroke and Loudon public safety officials attend the next meeting to provide feedback on emergency service access and concern. The next hearing will be held on March 15. 

Jamie Costa

Jamie Costa joined the Monitor in September 2022 as the city reporter covering all things Concord, from crime and law enforcement to City Council and county budgeting. She graduated from Roger Williams University (RWU) in 2018 with a dual degree in journalism and Spanish. While at RWU, Costa covered the 2016 presidential election and studied abroad in both Chile and the Dominican Republic where she reported on social justice and reported on local campus news for the university newspaper, The Hawks' Herald. Her work has also appeared in The *Enterprise *papers and the *Cortland Standard *and surrounding Central New York publications. Costa was born and raised on Cape Cod and has a love for all things outdoors, especially with her dog.

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