LEWISTON — Casino backers touted their plan Thursday, urging legislators to skip a public vote in November and adopt it as written.

“This project was born out of the desire to maximize the economic impact for Lewiston and to minimize the adverse impact,” said Peter Robinson, one partner in Great Falls Recreation and Redevelopment LLC. “But we are also providing economic development for the region as well. Every aspect of this project is an important economic choice that needs to be made and it certainly is worthy of passage by the state Legislature.”

The principals behind Great Falls Recreation and Redevelopment LLC hosted a news conference in Lewiston City Hall on Thursday to present the signed petitions they’ve gathered to get the casino on the November 2011 ballot. 

Afterward, they packed the signed petitions with more than 69,000 signatures in 10 plastic boxes, loaded them into a truck and drove them to Augusta, where they will be turned in to the Secretary of  State’s Office.

Stavros Mendros, manager of the casino group, said another 6,000 signatures are in Portland and would be delivered to the Secretary of  State’s Office on Monday.

The group hopes to turn the massive, sawtoothed Bates Mill building No. 5 along Lewiston’s Main Street into a casino. The group needs at least 57,277 signatures from registered Maine voters to qualify for the November 2011 ballot.

Once the signatures have been verified, the matter goes to the state Legislature for review. If legislators don’t vote to adopt the Lewiston casino, it will go on the November 2011 ballot.

Voters in Lewiston approved an agreement in June, giving the casino group the option to purchase the Bates Mill building No. 5. The group made its first $10,000 payment to the city in June. A second $10,000 payment is due Feb. 28, and a $30,000 payment would be due July 31. A final $100,000 payment would be due Dec. 31, 2011, nearly two months after the matter goes before voters at a statewide referendum.

Mendros pointed to that vote and to the signatures his group has collected since as local support for the effort. The group collected more 10,000 signatures in Lewiston.

“That shows the level of support people in Lewiston have for this,” Mendros said.

Mayor Larry Gilbert agreed.

“These investors want to go ahead and grow the downtown,” Gilbert said. “I guess I’ll just make a plea to the Legislature to just let it go through because, obviously, this is what the people of Maine want.”

The group estimates it would return between $21 million and $30 million to state, regional and local governments and efforts each year.

That money would go to a wide array of groups, including local towns and would-be competitors. As much as $4.5 million could go to local governments — Lewiston, Auburn, Androscoggin County and surrounding towns.

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