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News Maryland Anne Arundel County

Site near BWI offered for slots

A company that is planning a mixed-use development near Baltimore- Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport has floated the location as a possible venue for a slots casino if a nearby site at Arundel Mills mall falls through.

Linthicum Heights-based Heffner & Weber has offered to sell a parcel of more than 50 acres of undeveloped land near the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and the airport to a slots developer, presumably Baltimore-based Cordish Cos., which is seeking a state license and county zoning for its project at the mall. The site is part of the proposed "Aerotropolis," a transit-oriented development that could include housing and entertainment.

President Mitch Weber characterized his firm's proposal as alternative that could break a stalemate on the Anne Arundel County Council, which has delayed voting on a zoning measure as some residents balk at having slots at the mall. Council members are weighing two zoning bills, and the state slots commission that is handling licensing has given them until mid-December to resolve the issue.

"We're not trying in any way to be a spoiler; we're trying to put on the table a site that might make good sense if other proposals fail," Weber said. "From our perspective, we believe this site does have some attributes that would not cause it to be a lighting rod like the site has been at Arundel Mills."

But his proposal has not generated much interest.

Cordish officials have said they aren't considering other sites for their proposed 4,750-slot machine casino. "There is only ONE application and only ONE possible location for a gaming facility in Anne Arundel County, and that is Arundel Mills!" Joseph Weinberg, a Cordish partner, wrote in an e-mail to The Baltimore Sun. "Period, end of the story."

Heffner & Weber outlined its idea in a letter to County Executive John R. Leopold and council members last month. Leopold, a Republican, said he is focusing on Cordish's bid. He is pushing the council to approve zoning for slots as a way to bring gambling revenue to the state and the county, which faces a $90 million shortfall.

"I would consider it a red herring," Leopold said of the airport proposal. "It simply distracts attention from the one realistic bid presently before the state location commission."

This is not the first time slots have been proposed at BWI. Lawmakers this year had proposed allowing thousands of slots in the terminal area to tap into the high volume of travelers there. But Gov. Martin O'Malley called that a "bad idea," and the proposal went nowhere.

Weber said his firm decided to propose its alternate slots location after the county council began considering another alternative that would put a casino in an industrial area south of Route 32. He said his site would have easy access to the BWI rail station and parkway, and noted that few residences are nearby.

But Leopold said the Aerotropolis project is on hold. "In this economic downturn, it's a nonstarter," he said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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