LEWISTON — Casino-backers started collecting signatures Tuesday, aiming to ask city voters in June if they’d approve the sale of the land under Bates Mill No. 5, the massive structure at Main and Canal streets.

Stavros Mendros, leading the investment team, said the group would sign an option agreement with the city to pay 125 percent of the land’s appraised value as of Jan. 1, 2010, if voters approve.

It would clear the way for the group, Great Falls Casino LLC, to begin collecting signatures statewide for a 2011 vote approving the Lewiston casino.

“We felt pretty safe that we’ll get local support,” Mendros said. “If we do, it puts us in a good place for the statewide referendum. It shows that this is something that Lewiston wants. And if we don’t get the local support, it’s better to know it now and not waste any more of my investors’ time.”

The investors’ group includes Mendros, a professional signature collector, Dr. Ron Chicoine, an anesthesiologist, and three others Mendros declined to name. All are Lewiston residents, he said.

Ten people signed the petition application Monday. City Clerk Kathy Montejo said the group needs to collect signatures from 860 registered Lewiston voters within 60 business days, which gives them until the middle of March.

Mendros said the deal he’s offering is much the same as what he presented to city councilors at an executive session earlier this month. According to the deal, Great Falls Casino LLC would pay the city $10,000 within 30 days after voters approve the purchase option agreement.

“It’s important to go right to the voters,” Mendros said. “Even if the new City Council approves the option, an out-of-town group could still come in and challenge their decision. But if voters approve, that’s what we have.”

Great Falls Casino LLC would keep the option to purchase until Dec. 31, 2011. If Maine voters approve the casino plan at the polls in November 2011, the company would be able to complete the sale. If voters turn down the casino, they’d get the right to outbid other competing uses for another 90 days.

According to the petition, 8.6 percent of all slot machine revenues would go to local governments and related issues. Lewiston would get 2.5 percent — a half-percent for unspecified infrastructure improvements and 2 percent for the General Fund. Auburn and Androscoggin County each would get 1 percent of the revenues, with the towns of Sabattus, Lisbon and Greene sharing another half-percent.

Efforts to clean Maine rivers would get another 3 percent. The measure would also create a downtown Lewiston renovation fund, setting aside 0.3 percent of slot revenues. Another 0.3 percent would be set aside to purchase alternative energy for the city.

“Right now, we’re just planning to have a slot parlor, just like Bangor,” Mendros said. “But we want to leave the option open for more.”

The deal requires the city to demolish the building — everything but the hydropower facility in the basement. That belongs to NextEra Energy. The agreement asks the city to negotiate with NextEra to have that portion removed as well. 

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