Racino Groundbreaking Celebrated

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Officials on Thursday touted the impact the new racino in Austintown will have when the $250 million project is completed next spring at a groundbreaking ceremony.

Penn National Gaming officials and state and local leaders celebrated an official groundbreaking ceremony Thursday at the future site of the Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course in Austintown off Route 46 and the Interstate-80 interchange.

The long, often contentious process of getting the Ohio Racing Commission to approve the license transfer from Beluah Downs near Columbus for the new site was completed May 1.

Since, construction crews have worked to complete the $125 million project by the spring of 2014. Penn National paid $50 million for its video-lottery terminal license and $75 million to transfer the Beluah Downs racing license.

The project is expected to create more than 1,000 construction jobs and an additional 1,000 jobs when it opens next year. Construction is expected to be completed by spring 2014.

Turner Construction was selected as the project construction manager.

Penn National President Tim Wilmott said the complex will include dining, entertainment, slot machines and simulcast racing.

“That’s going to have a big ripple effect in this part of Ohio,” Wilmott said. “You also have our commitment to spend our money and hire locally whenever possible.”

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Howland, said of all the economic development projects that has come through the area, including Vallurec Star and the Youngstown Business Incubator, none has generated the type of buzz the racino has.

Austintown Township Trustee Jim Davis said the racino will make the township the hotspot of the area.

“Austintown Township has finally got its piece of the puzzle,” Davis said. “We’re building additional hotels, we’re building additional restaurants. Austintown Township has found its niche. It’s going to be the hotspot of the community.”

The township will also receive $1 million each in the first two years. The racino will pay the township $500,000 per year every year after.

The Western Reserve Port Authority will provide $60 million in capital lease financing and additional $65 million investment for the Hollywood at Mahoning Valley Race Course that will be used to purchase fixed assets for the facility such as buildings, stables and the racetrack.

Mahoning County Commissioner David Ditzler, a former Austintown trustee, said the county will use tax revenue from Penn National to improve infrastructure in the county.

“The project is just beginning,” he said. “We want to do more with the development and not just stay where we are.”

The approval process, however, took several tries. Penn National officials even became embroiled with snarky exchanges with racing commission officials during open meetings.

The commission and Penn National met six times between March 12 and May 1 and the commission denied plans three times. The commission deemed the plans needed more live seating for horse racing, better jockey dorms and larger stable areas.

In the final resolution, the commission stipulated that Penn National must agree in writing to complete the first two phases of their proposed construction plan and that document must be received by the commission by June 15. Penn National must also notify the commission when construction of those phases is complete and the $75 million relocation fee must be paid. At that time, all permits to hold horse racing will be re-issued.

“The racing commission had nothing to do with this (ceremony) so there wasn’t enough seating,” Davis joked during his remarks on Thursday.

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