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Butte, Montana

Billion Dollar Gamble
By Leslie McCartney of The Montana Standard

-------------------------------------------------------
February 23, 2003

Entertainment District - 150 acres in the East Side Urban Renewal area, east of Arizona and Utah streets to Continental Drive. 

Although it is a large tract of land, only a small portion will be used for gaming facilities. The rest is for musical venues, parking and other amenities to make it a "pedestrian-friendly" Uptown. East Side property includes land owned by MERDI, the Continental Public Lands Trust, Butte-Silver Bow and Burlington Northern. Developer Barrett Singer said any construction would be designed to look like the historic Uptown Butte district.

A Florida developer has big plans for Butte 

After months of rumors, speculation and options taken out on parcels of Butte property, the Butte Local Development Corp. and Florida developer Barrett Singer, president of Foxx Industries, have unveiled an ambitious project with a staggering $1.8 billion price tag. 

Under his plan, Singer plans to use several tracts of land in Butte to house three professional golf courses, a high-altitude training facility, a football stadium and an entertainment district. That district would feature 40 music halls with acts from the 1960s and 1970s and 10 casinos offering wide-open gaming -- from slot machines to roulette. 

Planners say it will bring in 70,000 tourists and gamers regularly who will need rooms, food and want to spend their money here during their stay. 

However, the entire package hinges on passage of legislation to OK the so-called entertainment district. 

Introducing full-service gaming in a half-square-mile area in Uptown Butte also is what makes the project financially attractive to Wall Street banks, according to Singer. 

"This is why financiers like it," Singer said. 

However, he would not name investment firms or other people involved other than his partner Robert M. Tormey, a businessman from Ohio, citing confidentiality. 

"We have no signatures yet, and I'm not at liberty to say," Singer said. 

Called "Destination Montana! Where the Stars Shine Brightly Under the Big Sky," the project has been in the works for the past nine months or so. 

"This is not Las Vegas; it's not glitzy," said Singer at a meeting Friday morning in Butte. "This will be a Currier and Ives postcard when we're done." 

According to the developers' timeline, construction could start in spring 2004 and be finished as soon as 2006. 

Foxx Industries would build the project but lease the buildings to casinos and entertainers. Singer said that the company has already spent in the "mid-six figures" to secure options on buildings and land. It has taken options on 12 Uptown buildings, but Singer declined to name them. 

"We'll control the tenants in the district," Singer said. 

And the project promises to sprinkle cash on various government entities, from schools to local and state government. This money, he says, would come from gambling machine fees, room fees, ticket fees and impact fees, among others. Singer also said that property taxes would amount to $32 million a year. 

Local governments around the state would also get a cut, Singer said. 

Evan Barrett, director of the Butte Local Development Corp., said that the project would fully energize not only Butte, but also all of south west Montana, with jobs and prospects luring residents from Whitehall, Deer Lodge and Boulder. He also said that Singer and his partners have not sought money from the county or state in the form of grants, loans, free land or tax breaks. 

Singer, 55, said he has been a Florida developer for more than 30 years and has built shopping centers, affordable housing, apartment buildings and other smaller-scale projects in the West Palm Beach area. He added that was active in movements to revitalize that area in the late 1980s and 1990s and sees similarities between that city and Butte. 

He readily admits he has not shepherded a project this large or costly, but downplays any difference. 

"It's just a few more zeros at the end," he said. 

He is also fully confident that he will be able to get financing for the project. He said that he and his partners have to show money and commit to building the entire project -- not just casinos -- to proceed. 

Singer originally came to Butte for another reason -- an idea to sell Montana beef to China to be shipped from the Port of Montana. At that time he discovered the Uptown area with the help of Barrett, and fell in love with the Uptown's architecture. He started forming an idea along the lines of Branson, Mo. That town has had great success with its musical venues and visitors, which Foxx wants to re-capture in Butte. 

He added that the Butte project is more than just gambling -- with emphasis on recreation and music venues. 

However, Singer and Barrett reiterated that the dream depends upon passage of legislation, which is being drafted by a Helena lawyer. They would not say who would carry the bill, but that they are talking to various legislators. The bill -- which is site-specific to Butte and no other city in Montana -- will likely be debated for several weeks in the session. 

"With the legislation passed, the project will go forward in its entirety," Singer said. 

If not, he said, he'll return to Florida. But he said that he is attracted to Butte because of its unique historic district and recreational opportunities and the excitement of developing such a large-scale project. 

Barrett added that the project represents a departure from Butte's past and although everyone wants to see the Montana Resources' mine reopen, the role mining has played in Butte has dimmed. 

"What is Butte's future?" he asked. "This sets the tone of Butte's future." 

Copyright Leslie McCartney and the Montana Standard, reproduced by permission.

:: Updated articles and information from the Montana Standard ::


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