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Developer Outlines Plans for New Casino in Western Maine

Fri October 10, 2008 - Northeast Edition
Jerry Harkavy

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) The chief architect of a proposed resort casino in western Maine’s Oxford County outlined design plans Oct. 1 and the company said it hoped to announce a specific location for the $150 million project soon.

Officials of the Olympia Group unveiled a concept sketch of Oxford Highlands Resort-Spa-Casino in advance of a Nov. 4 statewide referendum that will determine whether the project will be allowed to go forward.

Architect Peter Wilday of Reno, Nev., said he was attempting to re-create the charm of an old New England village. “This isn’t a big Wal-Mart box out there,’’ he said, citing such features as dormers, turrets, cornices, lots of brickwork and buildings of various sizes set amid clusters of mature trees.

The project, to be built in two phases, would include a 300-room hotel, a 30,000-sq.-ft. conference center and 100,000 sq. ft. of casino space that would accommodate various table games and up to 1,500 slot machines, Wilday said. Other amenities would include a spa, three restaurants and indoor and outdoor swimming pools, he said. A golf course could be added later.

Wilday, whose familiarity with Maine reflects the summers he spent as a child on Maranacook Lake in central Maine, said the casino and four-seasons resort will be the finest such facility on the East Coast. “It will be smaller. A lot smaller. But it will be the best.’’

Las Vegas-based Olympia, which bought control of the venture from Evergreen Mountain Enterprises after its founder abandoned the campaign following legal problems, vowed to pump $100 million into the project in the first year. An additional $50 million would be invested in the second phase of construction.

Wilday and spokeswoman Pat LaMarche said the turmoil in the financial markets would not affect the company’s ability to raise capital for the project.

“The company is very well funded. They deal with projects of this size all the time,’’ Wilday said.

Wilday said his design concept is far different from that of Maine’s only other gambling palace, the $132 million Hollywood Slots that opened this summer in Bangor. Free from the constraints posed by an 8-acre urban parcel, Wilday said he could avoid a “monolithic’’ approach and blend the resort’s components in a village-like setting.

The architect admitted it was unusual to try to come up with a design before a site is chosen. “We’re coming at this backward,’’ he acknowledged.

Dennis Bailey of Casinos NO!, which has battled the expansion of gambling in Maine, was unimpressed by Olympia’s descriptions of the resort.

“Pretty pictures won’t change the fact that even the proponents of this casino bill call it a ’mess,’’’ he said, citing provisions that would lower the legal age to gamble and work in a casino and give the developer a 10-year monopoly on gambling facilities. LaMarche has promised to seek changes in the Legislature if the measure wins voter approval.

Olympia has been examining various locations for the resort and is close to a deal on a 25-acre site, LaMarche said. Noting that Mainers have already begun voting by absentee ballot, she said it was important to identify the site quickly. “We’re playing beat the clock as fast as we can,’’ she said.

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