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Historic barns may stall Suffolk’s casino bid

Rows of decrepit, manure-strewn racehorse barns could pull the reins on Suffolk Downs’ casino dreams, after the Massachusetts Historic Commission threw up a roadblock on their proposed demolition in a landmark claim development experts say could be costly and time-consuming at best — and a project-killer at worst.

Suffolk Downs wants to demolish 30 wood-frame horse stables and a pony barn on the Revere side of the track to make way for the casino. It plans to move the barns to the East Boston side of the track, where the art deco clubhouse, grandstand and racetrack are located, all of which were built in 1935 and are listed in a state inventory of historic landmarks.

In a letter to the state environmental secretary obtained by the Herald, commission director Brona Simon says her staff “determined that the proposed demolition and new construction will have an ‘adverse effect’ … on the historic Suffolk Downs through the demolition of all or part of the property and the introduction of visual elements that are out of character with and will alter the setting of the property.”

David Begelfer, CEO of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties Massachusetts, said adding mitigation demands have sometimes caused developers to walk away from projects.

“No one is excited to find out that they’re being considered under the auspices of Mass. Historic,” Begelfer said. “It certainly can slow things down considerably. Mass. Historic has not been known for keeping to tight time schedules.”

The landmark claim could mean Suffolk Downs and casino partner Mohegan Sun have to pay to study ways to mitigate any work involving the barns to the satisfaction of the state’s legacy gatekeepers. It’s a hurdle not faced by Mohegan Sun’s competitor for the lone Boston-area casino license, Wynn Resorts, though Wynn has its own problems with a contaminated industrial site in Everett, which the Herald has reported could also pose lengthy, costly delays to that project.

Suffolk Downs COO Chip Tuttle downplayed the historic commission’s letter as “a standard part of the permitting process.”

“We appreciate its interest in the preservation of racing and our historic racetrack and grandstand, understanding that the only opportunity for that preservation is the success of the Mohegan Sun’s proposal,” Tuttle said. A Mohegan Sun spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.