2014-09-18 / Opinion

Casino Crossroads

The wait staff was huddled together for their pre-dinner meeting when a pair of youngish 20-somethings passed by the window carrying campaign literature.

One of the staff paused and asked how the others were going to vote in the election.

Not for governor; the other race. The one that Newporters are all too familiar with.

The casino question indeed looms large over the city and both sides have begun to lay the groundwork for the sprint ahead. It's hard to avoid the conversation and harder still not to have strong opinions about the issue.

For good reason.

Whether Newport votes to allow table games at Newport Grand will reverberate for generations.

Much like the challenges facing downtown in the wake of the Navy's decision to reposition the fleet some 40 years ago, we're faced with a similar crossroad in the North End.

Over the next few weeks, we urge Newporters to take in both sides of the casino debate and weigh their votes with the utmost care.

With so many unanswered questions and a highly dynamic casino market taking shape across the Northeast, this vote is perhaps the single most important ballot question we as a community will face.

We need to ask ourselves: In 20 years, what do we want the North End – and in particular, 150 Admiral Kalbfus – to look like?

If we could go back and reimagine the North End as a blank slate, where would a casino factor in to the discussion? Would it be seen as the highest and best use for the property? And, if not, what other types of businesses might have been better suited for the area?

If only we could go back, perhaps we wouldn't be faced with what seems like a perpetual campaign to convert our accidental slot parlor into a full-fledged casino.

Ironically, the vote comes at the same time that city planners and volunteers are studying these exact questions.

Developing and implementing a North End Master Plan has been a long-stated goal of this as well as past councils.

Earlier this year – prior to the news breaking of the current proposal to redevelop Newport Grand – a North End planning committee was making great headway in their efforts to bring forth a proposal that could give the city a clear road map to follow as it seeks to reshape the North End into a high technology center.

The impending vote in November is now casting a long shadow over those efforts and it remains to be seen what impact a fullfledged casino could have on that planning process.

Back at that restaurant where the staff was gathered to hear the night's specials, the bartender summed it up simply: "If I were a betting man, I'd go all in that if it fails, someone else is just going to be asking the same question two years from now."

Return to top