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Rochester casino plans for Lilac Mall unveiled with goal to open in 2024: What we learned

Foster’s Daily Democrat – September 13, 2023

Karen Dandurant
Foster’s Daily Democrat

ROCHESTER — Seacoast nonprofits came out in force Monday night to express support for Rochester Charitable Gaming group’s plan to open a casino at the Lilac Mall.

The plans were accepted by the city Planning Board as complete, moving the project one step closer to reality. The mall is set to be transformed with the casino becoming its anchor after years of seeing retailers leave the site. Recently, Granite State Bingo of Dover moved its operations to the former New Hampshire state liquor store at the site.

All New Hampshire casinos must give 35% of proceeds to nonprofits.

“We do good things. We are there for people,” said Pat Rainboth of Victims Inc., a nonprofit that helps people facing trauma. “We do the Dover Bingo, and we think this company has been wonderful to us, moving us to the old liquor store site. I hope the city recognizes all who will benefit from this casino.”

Greg Carlin, principal for the casino project and the Lilac Mall’s new owner, said the casino expects to give funds to 104 nonprofit groups, stating they will share an expected $3 million in revenue.

No one at the meeting spoke in opposition to the casino project.

Rochester casino plan details unveiled

Plans call for the 32,000-square-foot casino at Lilac Mall to include 26 gaming tables and about 225 historical horse racing machines. There will be a restaurant and bar on site.

Carlin said he expects the casino will employ about 80 people and predicted “a significant economic boost to the city.”

Scott Tranchemontagne, a spokesperson for Carlin, said the next big step is getting a building permit. He said the hope is to start construction before the end of 2023 and open the casino in late 2024.

Asked about the hours of operation, Carlin said they have not been set yet, but noted other locations generally are open from 9 a.m. to 1 or 2 a.m.

Carlin has previously said the casino project will go forward if the Planning Board approves, regardless of whether Rochester voters on Nov. 7 approve allowing a DraftKings sportsbook gambling site in the city. It’s possible sports betting could be added to Lilac Mall casino, too.

Carlin said he currently owns six casinos, including Ocean Gaming at Hampton Beach, which he recently acquired.

More improvements planned for Lilac Mall site

Significant improvements to the mall, the traffic flow, landscaping and the parking areas are planned. The casino entrance is proposed to be in the center of the property, with tenants already in the mall remaining on the ends.

The tenants remaining in the mall are Dance n’ Motion, Seacoast Gymnastics, Bea’s Jewelers, Subway, Papa Gino’s, Label Shopper, Ocean State Job Lot, Dollar Tree, Mattress by Appointment and Great Bay Community College.

City planning director Shanna Saunders said the project requires providing 727 parking spaces and the plan calls for 906.

The traffic lights at the entrance are planned to be upgraded, to include better walk indicators and state of the art signals, replacing those that have been there for many years, according to the plans. Four EV charging stations are planned, along with drop-off and parking areas for buses.

“We will have on-site security 24/7,” Carlin said. “We will work closely with police and fire for safety and will have on-site defibrillators.”

Vicky Martel, from Woodburn and Company landscape architects, said they will add 44 trees and many ornamental bushes and plants to the property.

Nonprofits speak up for casino

Excited about the potential of raising money through shared contributions, representatives of group after group stood in support of the casino.

Derek Peters, representing Roger Allen Park and Memorial Field on Chestnut Hill Road said they serve about 2,000 area kids each year.

“It costs us $100,000 a year to maintain the park and fields,” said Peters. “We are working to do capital improvements, like fencing and irrigation upgrades and this has the potential to have a huge impact. I urge the city to support it.”

Danny Whitman of Farmington 500 Association, a nonprofit youth sports organization that provides baseball, softball, basketball and more, said it serves kids ages 4-18.

“We do games of chance to help raise money,” he said. “But everyone is tapped out on fundraisers now, all competing for the same dollars, and the potential income here could make all the difference.”

Rochester Share Fund is an outreach ministry that serves families in need. Jerry Rainville said the casino is a net positive for the area and he supports it.

“The needs in the Rochester area have exploded and we need the help,” he said. “Last month alone, we served 800 people.”

Lisa Gibson, donation manager for the Rochester Opera House said they run fundraisers, like 50-50 raffles, which helps them develop programming. She said she grew up outside of Atlantic City and this plan is much smaller.

“The fear about something like this is inflated,” she said. “This is nothing like Atlantic City, and we support the benefits it will bring to nonprofits.”

Scott Merrill, representing Pope Memorial Humane Society — Cocheco Valley in Dover, said he came to speak for the animals.

“Our need increases more and more,” he said. “As people are being displaced, and they can’t take their animals, we help. There are plans we would like to implement like vet clinics, and this money can definitely help.”

How casino proposal came to Rochester

Rochester’s City Council in May paved the way for the Lilac Mall casino project, approving a city gaming ordinance, which sets locations where a casino could be allowed and parameters for it, including the gaming floor must be at least 20,000 square feet, plus additional space for other operations. The ordinance states a casino location could be permitted in the city’s highway commercial zone, which includes routes 11 and 125, as well as the Granite Ridge zone. Lilac Mall is located off Route 125.

September 13th, 2023

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