LEWISTON — Lewiston city councilors met behind closed doors in a 40-minute session Tuesday to consider a proposal to build a casino on the property at Bates Mill No. 5 after the mill is razed, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.
In the meeting with councilors and Mayor Larry Gilbert were acting City Administrator Phil Nadeau and Finance Director Dick Metivier. The council took no action after the meeting and Nadeau said he did not anticipate any.
Nadeau earlier confirmed the executive session was set up to discuss a proposal for the 8-acre property, which is the portion of the Bates Mill complex on Lincoln Street closest to Main Street.
Nadeau would say only that proposals by some individuals interested in the land were to be discussed; he declined to comment on details.
The council's agenda listed the session only as "real estate negotiations."
Another city official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the negotiations involved an offer from a local businessman that includes the city selling him an option on the land for potential casino development. That option would allow the proponent to gather signatures for a statewide referendum on allowing the casino.
Former City Councilor Stavros Mendros was also seen at City Hall on Tuesday.
Mendros worked on the last casino ballot initiative in Maine, organizing the gathering of voter signatures. That measure, launched by Rumford-area lawyer Seth Carey and backed by a Nevada gambling company, was defeated in November 2008.
Like the measure coming to voters next year, it would have sited a privately owned casino in Oxford County.
Also at the meeting Tuesday was Peter Martin, a principal with Black Bear Entertainment, the proponent of the current Oxford County ballot measure.
The first likely chance for a statewide vote on a Lewiston casino wouldn't be until 2011, according to both casino advocates and opponents, because the January deadline for ballot initiatives is fast approaching and gathering the more than 50,000 voter signatures needed to put the measure on the ballot would likely take more time than that.
A prominent Maine businessman also told the Sun Journal on Tuesday that he had been approached about two months ago by an intermediary for a group of Lewiston-based investors who were interested in building a casino on the site of the former textile mill.
That individual said he declined involvement in the group, not because he was for or against the idea, but because he was too busy with other ventures. He said the idea made sense to him, given the ongoing redevelopment efforts in Lewiston.
Former Lewiston City Administrator Jim Bennett said Tuesday it would not surprise him that a push for a casino at the mill property was being presented. He said several members of the council had pitched the idea to him in the past.
Bennett said he disagreed with them over the economic benefits a casino would bring to the city, so they stopped discussing the idea with him.
"I told them I didn't think a casino was all it was cracked up to be for a be-all, end-all for economic development," he said.
Those attending the closed-door meeting declined to comment afterward.
Sun Journal staff writer Scott Taylor contributed to this report.