New Owners of R.I.'s Lincoln Park Race Track Gear for Expansion

LINCOLN -- Now that Lincoln Park has a new owner, it's about to get a brand-new look.

Starting this month, the gambling facility will undergo a three-part renovation and expansion to make room for the 1,750 new video slot machines the state legislature approved Friday.

"It will be dramatically different," said Michael Doyle, a spokesman for BLB Investors, the consortium that closed on the property Monday.

In one striking change, patrons will have a choice of three main entrances, each topped with an awning of white peaks meant to resemble sails, Doyle said.

"The theme to the facility will represent the Ocean State. It will have a nautical flavor to it," he said.

When the three-year project is complete, the 58-year-old facility will look thoroughly modern, contain 4,752 video slot machines, and be 165,000 square feet larger than it is now, Doyle said. There will be several new restaurants, easier access to the site, and better parking, he said.

In the project's first phase, set for completion in the first quarter of 2006, the second floor of the existing building will get a facelift. A new grandstand will be built where patrons can view the dog track and watch simulcasts on screens in individual carrels. More than 600 of the new video slot machines will be installed in this phase.

The second phase, scheduled to be finished by the first quarter of 2007, is the 165,000-square-foot expansion. The building will gain game rooms, restaurants, and a new multipurpose space to house entertainment, said BLB co-CEO Len Wolman. The rest of the new slots will be installed at this time.

In this second phase, the building will get a sports bar, an Italian restaurant, a buffet, and "some great fast-food operations," Wolman said. Some existing restaurants will remain, he said.

Closing out the project, the first and third floor of the existing building will be modernized by 2008, Wolman said. A new service corridor will be constructed to keep the backroom restaurant operations out of the view of patrons. The facility will rely on its current entrances on Twin River Road and Louisquisset Pike.

"The whole area will be redone to provide a first-class experience," he said.

The state has agreed to lock in BLB's tax rate for 15 years. In exchange, BLB has agreed to invest at least $125 million in the expansion. The additional slot machines are projected to bring hundreds of millions of dollars of gambling revenue to the state, as well as $30 million to local communities.

Even so, several Lincoln residents question what's in it for them.

They say drivers going to and from Lincoln Park blast their music late at night, speed through local neighborhoods, and litter the roads. Those problems won't get better with an expansion, they say.

"We have a lot of late-night traffic," said resident Edward O'Neill. "Those people are wide awake because they were playing the slot machines. Their radios are loud, their windows are down. It's very disruptive."

Others say the town didn't have enough of a voice at the bargaining table. Lincoln's Code of Ordinances contains a provision requiring a local referendum before any expansion is allowed at Lincoln Park. Some state legislators -- as well as Town Administrator Sue P. Sheppard -- have held that an expansion consists of a change in the type of gambling, not just adding new machines.

"How can you add 1,750 new machines and say you're not expanding gambling?" said resident Anthony Baglini. "That is just very insulting to the intelligence of the people that live around here. Call it what it is."

And at least one Town Council member said Lincoln didn't get its fair share. The town will receive 1.5 percent of the revenue from the new machines, on top of the 1.25 percent it already gets.

"If it's going to be forced down our throat, it definitely takes more dollars to maintain the character of our town, with this facility growing and growing," said council member Ronald Loparto.

However, Sen. Joseph A. Montalbano, who sponsored the legislation in the Senate and whose district includes part of Lincoln, said it would bring the town tangible rewards, including 1,300 new jobs and a projected $99.6 million of additional revenue by 2021.

"It's an incredible amount of money. . . . I intend to run on that record when I come up for reelection," he said.

Town Council President Elizabeth Robinson said that, given a lack of leverage, she felt the town had done what it could to boost its share of the new revenue.

"Would I have liked a bigger piece of the pie? Of course. We all would. . . . I think it would have been difficult. What are we going to do, go out there and say we're not going give out permits if we don't get the money? That's not legal."

As for improving traffic in the area, BLB's Wolman said that the consortium has plans to "improve all the existing roadways" around the facility "and make them flow better." However, Lincoln Park is unlikely to get its own ramp off Route 146, he said.

Once BLB secures a local building permit, it has the go-ahead to begin the first phase of the project. The next phases may or may not require more extensive local approvals, depending on how the plans look when they're submitted, said Town Planner Albert Ranaldi.

Both Doyle and Wolman said BLB doesn't intend to ask for a zone change, and the project may not involve an expansion large enough to trigger a Planning Board review, they said.