Friday, March 22, 2013 • 7:12 AM Post a Comment

Casino Drama

posted by Maureen Turner

Mike Dobbs has a dynamite story in this week’s issue of the Reminder about the tension between Peter Pan Bus Lines CEO Peter Picknelly and city officials over the fate of the long-awaited Union Station delay.

And yes, like just about everything in the city these days, it traces back to the grand casino battle.

The conflict began earlier this week, when Picknelly, during an interview on the Bax & O’Brien show, dropped the bombshell that unless the casino proposal he’s involved with—Penn National’s plan for the North End—wins the battle for the sole Western Mass. casino license, his bus company will not relocate into Union Station. A year ago—before Penn National applied for the license—Picknelly had signed a letter of intent to move Peter Pan operations into the old train station. Having Peter Pan as a tenant would be crucial to the success of the Union Station project, which has been in start-and-stall mode for years. The Penn National plan calls for the bus company (as well as the Republican newspaper offices) to move from its current site to make way for the casino.

Picknelly’s no-casino, no-move statement generated backlash from critics who read it as an attempt to hold the Union Station project hostage unless his casino plan wins. The eventual winning casino proposal will need the approval of the mayor, the City Council and city voters. From there, the final decision rests with the state Gaming Commission, which will choose among four total proposals in Western Mass.: Penn National’s, MGM’s proposal in the South End, and applications in Palmer and West Springfield.

In an interview with Dobbs, Picknelly described his position as a simple, and smart, business move: why would he move his company from a building it owns to become a tenant in Union Station unless there was a compelling reason to leave the first building—namely, the casino? “It’s illogical to leave that property, to move across the street and pay rent. Everyone understands that. It’s nothing new,” Picknelly said.

Picknelly also suggested that his “bombshell” actually shouldn’t have been all that surprising, saying he’d made his position “clear to the city numerous times.”

Kevin Kennedy, the city’s chief development officer, acknowledged to Dobbs that Picknelly’s March 2012 letter of intent is not legally binding. He also insisted that the Union Station project will not live or die based on Peter Pan’s decision. “The project is going to be successful,” Kennedy said. Still, it’s hard not to imagine that Picknelly has ticked off some powerful people in the city: namely, Kennedy’s former boss, U.S. Rep. Richie Neal, who has secured millions in federal money for the Union Station project over the years and has a vested interest in seeing it finally completed.

Also likely to be unhappy with Picknelly: the folks at MGM. Asked by Dobbs about the possibility of MGM winning the casino license and bringing a rival bus company in to transport customers, Picknelly offered this humdinger of a quote: “I’m simply not going to let some goons from Las Vegas come in and threaten our company and our employees.”

Next up on the list of potential casino-related bombshells: one the Republican is expected by the city's most inveterate political gadflies to drop on Sunday.

And keep in mind, folks: there’s still at least three months to go until the casino proposals go before voters.

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