Suffolk Downs' gamble to build an eco-friendly casino in East Boston
Will the proposed casino actually live up to its sustainable vision?
Wednesday, April 17, 2013 - 11:18
Suffolk Downs is best known as Boston's premier thoroughbred racetrack, established in the 1930s and still an active stop on the racing circuit. However, if Suffolk Downs has its way, it may soon be home to an additional one-billion dollar casino development in conjunction with Caesar's Entertainment, a world-wide gaming hotel company based out of Las Vegas. This proposal is bent on securing a sought-after casino development license from the state of Massachusetts, a competition that involves several other major developers, and the outcome of which will likely hinge on each proposal's commitment to sustainable design and green-building practices.
In November of 2011, Governor Deval Patrick signed into law the Expanded Gaming Law which effectively legalized casinos in Massachusetts. This law set clear standards for green development by requiring new casinos to be certified through the United States Green Building Council's LEED program at or above a gold level. This gold certification requires 60-79 points out of 100, earned by fulfilling criteria for sustainable design based on site selection, water and energy efficiency, the use of recycled materials, and a variety of other innovations. The Suffolk Downs proposal includes tentative plans to meet the LEED gold level through the use of:
- A combined heat and power (CHP) system: Waste heat produced by the electricity generation process is captured and used to drive heating and cooling systems.
- A geothermal energy system: A review is underway to determine the feasibility of this system, which would regulate indoor temperatures by either picking up heat from the earth or releasing heat into the ground.
- Rain-water harvesting: Roof-top collection systems would supply water to the resort and reduce runoff.
- Roof-top garden: A possible garden may use hydroponic greenhouses to produce fresh fruits and vegetables for the resort's restaurants.
- An anaerobic digestion system: Manure from the racetrack and other sources of organic waste could be broken down by microorganisms to produce biogas. Composed primarily of methane and carbon dioxide, biogas can be used for heating, electricity, and any other operations that use an internal combustion engine.
In addition, the site of the proposed casino, adjacent to the racetrack at 525 McClellan Highway in East Boston, is currently covered by a series of parking lots. Suffolk Downs proposes to decrease this pavement by 30 percent through the creation of a new parking garage and extensive landscaping that includes the creation of pedestrian walkways, gardens and forested areas. These proposals certainly sound enticing, but they may not be enough to please local residents. Concerns include noise pollution from construction activities, the impact of storm-water runoff on local wetlands, an increase in local traffic, and a subsequent reduction of air quality.
In order to address community concerns and to conduct its own investigation, the City of Boston has recently released its own comments on the Environmental Notifications Form submitted by Suffolk Downs as part of its initial proposal. These comments state that Suffolk Downs barely reaches the minimum number of points necessary to reach an LEED gold certification, and points out that there are only minimal efforts to implement an on-site renewable energy system despite the mention of solar panels. In addition, the City of Boston has expressed its desire for modifications to the proposal that further reduce impermeable surfaces, wastewater and air pollution. Essentially, the proposal still lacks concrete plans to reduce some environmental impacts.
Finally, although Suffolk Downs was once the clear front-runner in the bid for a casino license, the site faces serious competition from Las Vegas developer Steve Wynn's proposal for a gambling resort in Everett, and the Foxwoods Resort's bid for a casino in Milford. As the developers continue to push their proposals it will become clearer just how important environmentally sustainable design is to Massachusetts and the City of Boston. With the license expected to be assigned in early 2014, let us hope that environmental concerns stay at the forefront of this debate.
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