EVERETT, MA — An event space that is part of Encore Boston Harbor’s planned entertainment district could spell curtains for nearby smaller, locally operated theaters.
So say several people who spoke on their behalf at a meeting of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission on Monday. The commission held the meeting to gather public comment on Encore’s proposal, which includes 20,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space across from the casino, connected by a pedestrian bridge over Broadway.
Critics of the project include Medford Mayor Breanna Lungo-Koehn and State Assemblyman Paul Donato, who echoed Medford City Council’s concerns about the impact of the proposed 999-seat venue on spaces like the Chevalier Theatre.
“I speak to you as mayor to ensure our economy in Medford thrives,” Lungo-Koehn said.
Central to the Gambling Commission’s discussion is whether the project is an extension of the casino that would subject it to specific gambling regulations. But many people speaking at Monday’s meeting claimed that Encore is already circumventing those rules, particularly one about building a venue between 1,000 and 3,500 seats.
“The fact that Encore has consistently performed concerts where seats have been sold and between 1,000 and 3,500 seats have been added to their ballroom is a clear violation of the law,” said Dan Rabinovitz, an attorney representing the City of Medford and Bill Blumenreich Presents represents. which runs the Chevalier Theatre.
In addition to its perimeter agreements with nearby cities and communities, Encore has an affected live entertainment venue agreement with nonprofit and community theaters. Part of that agreement involves good faith communications with local theaters, something the casino has failed to uphold, said Troy Siebels, executive director of Worcester’s Hanover Theater and chairman of the Massachusetts Performing Arts Coalition.
“There is a world where both organizations can survive, but we don’t think we’re in that level playing field right now,” Siebels said.
Local venues rely on ticket sales and concessions to recoup the cost of a performance, while a casino has other primary sources of income, giving it an unfair advantage when it comes to booking talent, theater advocates said.
Ken Krause, who serves on the board of directors of the Friends of the Chevalier Auditorium, cited a 2019 performance by the band The B-52s at Encore. The band were “virtually signed” by the Chevalier before the casino let them “three.” Times” offered the amount” to play there,” said Krause.
“Talk about predatory practices,” Krause said.
While acknowledging that the 999-seat casino proposal is within the law, Krause stressed the importance of the entertainment district, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Gambling Commission.
“If the venue goes ahead and isn’t part of the Gambling Commission, they could turn around the next day and do 1,800 seats,” Krause said, which would put him in direct competition with the 1,850-seat Chevalier.
Encore would already compete with Beverly’s smaller, 850-seat Cabot Theater, said the theater’s executive director Casey Soward. Cabot was generating about $10 million to $12 million annually before the pandemic and is working to get back to that scale this year.
“We understand competition well, but we’re concerned about cutthroat competition,” Soward said.
In addition to the venue, Encore’s proposal includes approximately 800 hotel rooms, 50,000 square meters of restaurant space, a parking garage with more than 2,300 spaces, a warehouse and green spaces.
Encore officials did not respond to emailed questions about the meeting; however, its owner Wynn Resorts has previously touted the plan as a way to revitalize the industrial area surrounding the casino.
The company is “trying to make it a vibrant neighborhood,” Chris Gordon, president of Wynn Resorts Development, told the commission in February.
The Commission will next examine the project on 10 March.