Racino plans, $1 million village windfall remain pending

by Jeff Saunders and Eric Marottareporter and editor Published:

Northfield Village -- After Northfield Park announced a partnership with Hard Rock International last April to build a $275-million gaming and entertainment facility at the track, groundbreaking for the facility, as well as a $1 million payment the village hoped to receive from the state by the end of 2012, remain pending.

A construction fence was installed at the racino site in front of the track around late October, said Mayor Jesse Nehez, and contractors began digging holes with excavators the first week of January to locate gas and water utility lines the racino will need to connect with.

However, Northfield Park has yet to submit a license application for the racino to the Ohio Lottery Commission or pay a $10 million down payment on a $50 million licensing fee, said Lottery Commission spokesperson Marie Kilbane Jan. 3.

The track is the only one of seven in the state that hasn't submitted its application.

Nehez said the village is working on the assumption construction of the racino will begin soon.

Neither Northfield Park nor Hard Rock International representatives returned phone calls by press time.

Steps have been taken to build the facility, which is expected to include space for as many as 2,500 video lottery terminals.

A site plan for the facility was approved by Village Council Oct. 1. The plan details gaming areas, an entertainment venue, comedy club, a buffet and a steak house, gift shop and a Hard Rock Café.

Also, the village has begun taking steps to prepare for the expansion of business the racino is expected to bring.

Police Chief Mark Wentz said in July the he is looking into forming a temporary reserve unit as a low-cost intermediary step, prior to an expected expansion of the police department when the racino is completed.

Council in August approved amendments to the village's zoning code affecting C-1 industrial districts that were in specific response to the racino. The amendments specify that video lottery terminal facilities, as well as theaters, concert venues, restaurants, bars and hotels are allowed within the district.

While new construction would be restricted to 150 feet in height, the code includes building and parking lot setback requirements, more detailed procedures for review and approval of plans that village officials said would protect the interests of residents in neighborhoods to the south of the race track.

The village in October entered into an agreement with the track to install new sanitary sewer lines on Route 8 to accommodate the racino and the village is getting a $1.66 million state Issue 1 grant next year to cover an additional $1.9 million expansion in capacity.

The $1.9 million project will allow the village to eliminate its Elm Street sanitary sewer pump station, which has a history of periodic maintenance issues, said Village Engineer Richard Wasosky. The project includes replacing sewer lines along Route 8 from Filly Lane to Houghton Road and on Houghton from Route 8 to Victory Drive with larger lines. A line along Summit Avenue will also be replaced with a line of the same diameter, but at a different elevation to allow for the elimination of the pump station.

Waiting for $1 million

While preparations are being made for construction of the racino, the village is still waiting for a $1 million windfall from the state. The $1 million is part of a $2 million payment the village is to get from the Casino Operator Settlement Fund, said Dave Pagnard, communications director for the Ohio Office of Management and Budget, which administers the fund.

Pagnard said he couldn't comment on the status of the fund, but village officials said they've been told the money should be forthcoming.

"What we've been told is the money should be forthcoming in the spring," said Bryan.

Bryan said he believes the delay is due to some sort of negotiations between the casino operators and the state, but did not have details.

"I think there's a tentative agreement," he said.

Half of the first $1 million must be used for capital improvements in the village, and Wasosky said the village is planning to use some of that money to reconstruct four residential roads, including Cranbrook, Huntington and McKinley drives and Lowrie Boulevard, with Cranbrook the top priority.

Last June, Gov. John Kasich signed legislation passed by the General Assembly that communities hosting a race track with plans to construct a racino would receive $2 million each. Under the legislation, the first installment was due Dec. 31, 2012. The second $1 million installment is due by June 30, 2013. Half of it is also to be used for capital improvements.

Email: jsaunders@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9432

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