Racino site in Austintown moving forward

AUSTINTOWN – From atop the hill at the intersection of Austintown’s state Route 46 and Silica Road, passers-by now can see almost to state Route 11.

That’s because trees have been cleared and earth is being moved on a sprawling piece of acreage that soon will be home to a thoroughbred horse racetrack and video lottery terminal.

After preliminary site work wraps up, Penn National and Gaming Co. hopes to begin construction by spring for the highly anticipated track that will be known as known as Hollywood Slots at Mahoning Valley Race Course, said Penn National spokesman Bob Tenenbaum.

The racino will mean new jobs and a new form of entertainment that can help spur economic growth locally, Tom Humphries, CEO and president of the Regional Chamber, said recently.

”Entertainment. You have to have that component,” Humphries said as he discussed local economic growth. He referred specifically to the plans underway by Penn National. ”I think we are on the right track, and I think you will see us working diligently as the year progresses.”

Penn National has estimated the Austintown project could bring 1,000 direct and indirect jobs, in addition to the 1,000 or so construction jobs.

Tenenbaum estimated that two thirds of the 1,000 jobs generated by the track itself will be at the facility.

Sarah Boyarko, vice president of economic development for the Regional Chamber, said spinoff businesses are expected in the immediate area where the track will be located.

She said the chamber does not yet have an estimate of how much those jobs and businesses will generate, but she did say based on other places where Penn National has tracks, it should be ”significant.”

”We’re looking forward to the additional opportunities for the spinoff that will occur in that area,” Boyarko said.

She said the track will also be a destination spot for people from out of town, so area hotels should also see an increase in business as well.

Township Trustee Jim Davis said the township will also receive $1 million the first two years after the casino is open for infrastructure needs related to the Racino, such as roads.

The township will also be using money it receives from Penn National from that first $1 million to help pay off an $800,000 loan for a new radio system for its safety service forces, Davis said.

Davis said the progress made on clearing the land on the site is impressive.

”It’s unbelievable to drive by and see the land cleared,” Davis said.

Penn National still is awaiting final approval from the state Racing Commission to relocate its existing Beulah Park in Columbus to the 184-acre site that is being cleared now, Tenenbaum said. That approval could come as early as next month, race commission officials have said.

”It’s a process,” Tenenbaum said.

Tenenbaum said he anticipates the racing commission to make a decision on Penn National’s transfer request at their March meeting. He said the plan is to for the track to open in spring of 2014.

Tenenbaum said Austintown was picked for the relocation because of an intensive lobbying effort by several local groups, including the Regional Chamber, who are working closely with Penn National.

Also, Tenenbaum said Austintown is a good location because of the major roads that go through the township, including Interstate 80 and state Route 11 and that there is plenty of land to build on.

”We felt Austintown is ideal because there’s enough space to build and we also wanted to build there because of great highway access.”

There were also no major problems on the site once crews began clearing it, Tenenbaum said.

”For the most part it was already ready to build on,” Tenenbaum said.

Boyarko said the chamber’s site selection pitched the site to Penn National. She said it had been pitched to other companies previously for industrial use, but it is a good fit for Penn National.

”Sometimes it just takes the right project,” Boyarko said.

Tenenbaum said the local cooperation has been key to the progress so far.

”We’ve been absolutely tickled with the cooperation we’ve gotten from the government,” Tenenbaum said.

Editor’s note: Joe Gorman is a reporter for the Tribune Chronicle in Warren, a sister newspaper of the Salem News in the Ogden Newspapers Group.