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Businesses around Maryland Live! say they are optimistic

Doug Bither looks forward to the jobs that will be created when the 330,000-square-foot Maryland Live! casino opens here, adjacent to the Arundel Mills mall.

Doug Bither, director of operations for Skye Hospitality, says if the new Maryland Live! casino becomes a weekend draw, he could hire extra front desk workers and shuttle drivers for the four nearby hotels he oversees.

But Bither isn’t talking about the 1,500 employees who will be hired by the casino, which includes restaurants and a music venue. He’s talking about the jobs he hopes to create at the four nearby hotels he oversees as director of operations for Baltimore-based Skye Hospitality LLC.

If the casino becomes a weekend draw, Bither said, he thinks he can hire extra front desk workers and shuttle drivers. Between corporate and military visitors to the Baltimore area, he said business is strong Monday through Thursday.

“Weekends, we’re a little soft,” Bither said, citing a 65 percent occupancy rate Friday, Saturday and Sunday. “We are looking for the casino business to help us out. … It would be nice if we could get up to 80 percent.

“We want to work hand in hand with them.”

Bither’s desires reflect those of the many businesses that surround the casino, some of whom decided to locate in the area after The Cordish Cos. announced it would build the state’s largest slots casino in the dense shopping district bracketed between Route 295 and Route 100.

David Cordish, chairman of The Cordish Cos., said the casino will be an “economic engine for the state,” generating $500 million in taxes per year and spending more than $60 million a year on goods and services.

But the casino’s on-the-ground impact will also be significant.

“It will be very dramatic for Anne Arundel County and the neighboring community,” Cordish said. “It’s a tourist destination.”

State agencies have not conducted an economic impact study, but anecdotal evidence supports Cordish’s conclusions.

Bither, who is also general manager for TownePlace Suites by Marriott on Arundel Mills Circle — on the opposite side of the mall from Maryland Live! — said most hiring for his hotels may center on creating new shuttle routes. The hotels — TownePlace Suites, Hampton Inn & Suites, Residence Inn and Spring Hill Suites, totaling 500 rooms — already provide regular shuttle service to Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

After Maryland Live! opens on June 6, Bither said, he may need to hire drivers whose only job would be to shuttle customers to the casino and back.

“We expect we’ll get a lot of requests for people going to the casino,” Bither said. “That will be a regular run.”

Joseph Weinberg, managing partner and president of gaming for Cordish, said the casino is working with area businesses to ensure that they see some benefit from the casino’s opening.

“All the hotels in the area, we’ve been working on merging databases,” Weinberg said. “You can go on our website and if you’re looking for a hotel, you can pull up any of the hotels in the area and link right into their booking database.

“It’s the perfect complement to the hotels.”

Casino management is trying to work with more than just the hotels, though. Weinberg said that cross marketing would happen with area retailers in an attempt to drive traffic to those shops during off-peak periods.

For example, if a store owner wants to advertise a special discount during a slow time of the week, an advertisement can be displayed on video lottery machines at the casino. Weinberg called the ads “a consumer experience enhancement” for the casino.

Robert J. Norton, president and general manager of Maryland Live!, said there’s a “natural partnership” between a casino and the local businesses that stand to gain substantially from the casino’s opening.

“We are going to drive a lot of people in. There are going to be a lot more … customers coming to the area,” Norton said. “There’s a synergy between those people who go out to eat at a restaurant or go to the outlet mall like Arundel Mills and those people that come to the casino. There’s a lot of crossover.”

That’s exactly what Peter Rivera, general manager of the month-old Bagels N Grinds restaurant, is hoping for.

The New York-style bagel cafe, which leases the corner shop in a small retail development that juts in an L-shape from the Hotel at Arundel Preserve, opened April 30. But it has not yet begun a formal marketing campaign.

It’s waiting for the casino to open, Rivera said.

“[We will] start marketing side by side with the open of the casino. In the next couple weeks, we’re going to have a lot of promotions out there, as far as paper promotions, mailers,” Rivera said, adding that casino marketing will force people to the immediate area, indirectly forcing some of those people into the bagel shop.

“Now you have a million people coming out here, and you don’t have to pay for that,” Rivera said.

Many area businesses are hoping that the casino will lead to a revenue increase in the 10 to 15 percent range. Since Bagels N Grinds is so new, Rivera hopes the increase is even greater.

“As far as the casino goes, we hope that brings everyone out here,” he said. “They’re staying mostly at this hotel.”

Indeed, a large number of overnight casino visitors should stay at the 150-room Hotel at Arundel Preserve. Jeff Makhlouf, the hotel’s general manager, said that was part of the plan all along.

Southern Management Corp., the developer who built the hotel and nearby apartment buildings, sought to fill a luxury-hotel void in the local marketplace for the sake of airport travelers. But the casino is an enormous added plus, Makhlouf said.

“Our location here, we are in Hanover, Md. A lot of people don’t see a lot of things happening in this area,” he said. “But [Washington] is not that far. Annapolis is not that far. We are close to Arundel Mills, close to the airport.

“With the casino coming in, that will be even an additional amenity for us to market for groups to stay here for weekend leisure.”

The hotel already has prepared a special room rate for Maryland Live! gamblers, and has set up a deal whereby the casino will occasionally pay for a gambler to stay at the hotel. But — before a single slot handle has been pulled — the hotel has already enjoyed additional business, courtesy of the casino.

Casino vendors have used the hotel’s banquet and meeting areas during construction at Maryland Live!, and Makhlouf said there has been buzz among guests who are excited for the opening of higher-end restaurants at the casino, including Phillips Seafood, the Cheesecake Factory and the Prime Rib. The restaurants, entertainment at Rams Head Center Stage in the casino and the hotel make the area an attractive “staycation” location, Makhlouf said.

And, he said, success at Maryland Live! could lead to more development at the hotel, too.

“If things go very, very well with the casino, we could build an extension to the hotel here,” he said. “Additional projects will definitely follow. There’s still a lot of room to grow.”

Anne Arundel County Councilman Peter Smith, who represents the district that includes the casino and Arundel Mills shopping area, said previous opposition among business owners and community residents has been replaced by curiosity with the Maryland Live! opening just days away.

“I think they’re excited to see what it’s going to bring,” Smith said. “I’m hopeful that everything has been thought out and we’ll be properly prepared.”

Smith joined some business owners who cast a wary eye on the road system through the district, unsure that — even with $10 million in roadway improvements paid for by The Cordish Cos. — it can handle what could be a tremendous influx of people once the casino opens. On a busy night, Weinberg — the Cordish gaming president — said Maryland Live! could have 15,000 customers.

Some business owners, concerned about crime the casino might bring to an area not known for its nightlife, said they hoped Maryland Live! would have adequate security to keep their shops and the community safe. The casino has hired about 100 security guards, a spokeswoman said.

Even those most worried about the crime and traffic elements, though, acknowledged the casino and new customers coming to town were good for business. The casino could open up a whole new market to the restaurants, stores and hotels in Smith’s district.

“The casino could put the area on the radar,” Smith said. “One would think other businesses will benefit from that.”