What It Means To Invest In A Town

I love what Jeff Kinney (author of the Wimpy Kid books) is doing for Plainville, Massachusetts. He has removed an eyesore from the center of town and replaced it with a wonderful bookstore, but he hasn’t stopped there.

The Attleboro Sun Chronicle posted a story today about his latest contribution to the town.

The article reports:

The Kinneys were at a book conference in Los Angeles, where Julie Kinney found a booth staffed by Write Brain Books publishing company.

The firm publishes children’s book with illustrations, but no text. Children are expected to write their own stories to go with the drawings.

Julie Kinney brought four of the books to Wood School in Plainville, where fourth-grade teacher Devon Almeida turned them into a major project for her students.

Now, their versions of the books have been published and are going on sale at An Unlikely Story bookstore in Plainville, which is owed by Jeff Kinney.

The children presented their stories to parents Wednesday at the school. Write Brain founder and CEO Meredith Scott Lynn flew in from California for the occasion.

I love the fact that the books the students wrote will be sold at An Unlikely Story bookstore. Thank you, Jeff Kinney, for all you are doing for Plainville.


Sharing Success

I lived in Plainville, Massachusetts, for thirty-five years. When my family originally moved there, there was a store in the middle of town called Falk’s Market. The children in the town rode their bikes there to buy penny candy, and the growups knew that Falk’s was the best place to buy steaks to barbeque. Over the years Mr. Falk grew old and the store fell into disrepair. Eventually it was sold to someone who didn’t seem to know how to bring it back to its glory days. Then, a few years ago it was sold to Jeff Kinney, who wrote the Wimpy Kid books. Mr. Kinney knew how to bring back the glory days of the market in the center of Plainville.

The New York Times posted a story today about the bookstore in Plainville that will be opening soon.

This is what Falk’s Market looked like when Mr. Kinney bought it:


This is the new bookstore:

falksMarketAfterThe New York Times reports:

Now, in a risky and ambitious next act, Mr. Kinney will start selling other people’s books. He’s opening a bookstore, called An Unlikely Story, in his adopted hometown, Plainville, Mass., about 40 miles south of Boston. And while he doesn’t want the store to resemble a “Wimpy Kid” theme park, he’s willing to use the popularity of the series to draw in customers. Mr. Kinney will work at the cash register and in the cafe on occasion, and he plans to teach a cartooning workshop at the store.

Thank you, Mr. Kinney, for loving Plainville enough to build a bookstore there.

Some Good News To Begin The Weekend

I realize that this story may not interest everyone, but I love it.

This is a picture of Falk’s Market in Plainville, MA.

During the 1980’s, it was a place where the children in the town bought penny candy from Mr. Falk. It was the preferred destination of young children on bicycles.

Over the years, Falk’s Market began to deteriorate. By the turn of the century, it was becoming an eyesore. Everyone in the town had fond memories of Falk’s Market, but no one seemed to have the knowledge or the money to know what to do with it.

In 2013 it was torn down by its new owner–‘Wimpy Kid’ author, Jerry Kinney. Mr. Kinney had hoped to restore the building, but the foundation was beyond repair. The new building is currently under construction.

This is a picture of the new building:

It is wonderful to see the new building going up, but there is something even more wonderful in store for Plainville.

The Sun Chronicle reported today that Mr. Kinney intends to use the lower level of the building to open a bookstore.

The Sun Chronicle reports:

They have said they want the new Falk’s Market to be a gathering place for the community and have set aside space in it for public meetings.

“When Julie and I bought the building we wanted to make sure it served to bring the community together,” Kinney said.

“An independent bookstore that sells gifts seemed like the perfect fit. With the function space we’ll have on the second floor, it’s our hope that we can create events for the community that are enriching and fun.”

Although rumors have been floating for months that the new building would house a bookstore, Kinney did not confirm it until he made a presentation at a conference in New York.

He provided more details to The Sun Chronicle this afternoon.

“We think that a bookstore will capture the spirit of what made Falk’s Market special and give people who live in Plainville and the surrounding towns a chance to come together,” he said.

Thank you, Jeff Kinney. You are definitely an asset to the community.

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Democracy In Action

Tonight I attended the “Post-Negotiation” Forum with the Town of Plainville presented by the Cummings Team. This forum was the final phase of the meetings held before the September 10th election where Plainville residents get to vote on whether or not to allow slot machines to be installed into Plainridge Raceway.  What was supposed to be a rather orderly process was complicated recently when the Massachusetts Gaming Commission declared  OurWay Realty (the former owners of Plainridge Racecourse) unfit to manage the proposed slot machines due to some prior business practices. To review some recent history, the Town of Plainville Board of Selectmen decided to proceed with the election, stating that the owners were disqualified–not the site or the town. The original purpose of the meeting was to explain to the voters the details of the Host Agreement Plainridge had signed with the Town. That was done very thoroughly, but obviously those attending the meeting were very interested in learning about the company that had bought Plainridge. All of the information about the Host Agreement between Plainridge and Plainville can be found on the Town of Plainville website. The Assignment and Assumption of Host Community Agreement can also be found on Plainville’s website. The agreement is between Ourway Realty, LLC, and Springfield Gaming and Redevelopment ,LLC (a company formed by Penn National Gaming). The agreement did not change–it was simply transferred to the new owners.

This week it was announced that Penn National Gaming has taken over Plainridge Racecourse and will apply for the license for the slot machines. Penn National Gaming representatives gave a short presentation about their company and explained that very few changes would be made to the original plans for the Racino. They gave a brief history of the company, which is publicly traded on NASDAQ. Chris McErlean, Vice-President, Racing, explained that the company’s forte is racing/gaming facilities. Eric Schippers, Senior Vice-President, Public Relations, explained that the goal of Penn National Gaming in getting involved in Plainridge was to save the racetrack. He explained that Penn National Gaming has a decentralized management philosophy and believes in local managers involved in the communities where their facilities are located.

The meeting was very positive, and I believe that Penn National Gaming would be a very suitable organization to run Plainridge Raceway. The representatives from Penn National Gaming did remind us that the vote in Plainville was only a part of the process. Even if the voters approve the slot machines, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission will decide whether or not to choose the site.

I would like to applaud the Plainville Board of Selectmen for allowing the vote to go forward on September 10 even though it looked as if there might not be anyone to takeover the racetrack. I would also like to applaud the representatives of Penn National Gaming for a very thorough and concise presentation explaining who they are and what their plans are for the future of Plainridge Raceway. Because of the foresight of the Board of Selectmen and the willingness of Penn National Gaming to get involved midway through the process, Plainville voters will have a chance to express their opinion.


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The Twists And Turns Of Bringing Slot Machines To Plainville

On September 10, voters in Plainville, Massachusetts, will go to the polls and vote to determine whether or not to bring approximately 1200 slot machines into Plainridge Raceway. As you drive around Plainville, you see a lot of lawn signs. The majority of the ones I have seen support the slot machines, but I haven’t driven through all parts of the town. On Thursday there will be an information meeting for the voters held at the Wood School in Plainville, and on Sunday there will be a meeting held by the opponents of the slot machines at the Senior Center in Plainville. I plan to attend both meetings.

The Sun Chronicle featured two stories about the slot machines on its website today. The first story, titled “Gaming commission wants to hear from Plainville residents on transfer of slots agreement,” states that the Gaming Commission is holding off a decision on whether or not to approve the sale of Plainridge to Penn National Gaming until it has a chance to hear from the residents of the town. I assume that means that members of the Gaming Commission will be present at Thursday’s meeting.

The second story in the Sun Chronicle is titled, “Penn National has track record on race tracks, gambling venues.” That story deals with the reputation and past performance of the Penn National Gaming company.

That article reports:

This much is known: Penn National is one of the largest gambling concerns in the country. It owns 28 facilities that include casinos, race tracks with slot machines and stand-alone race tracks.

Michael Perpall, president of the Harness Horsemen’s Association of New England, said Penn National has a good reputation among horsemen and he is optimistic it would do a good job at Plainridge.

Clyde Barrows, who studies gambling at University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, also said the firm is a well-respected operator in the gaming industry.

“Penn is a publicly-traded company on NASDAQ with a recent share price above $53 and 2012 net income of $211.9 million,” he said.

The opposition group in Plainville is lead by Mary-Ann Greanier. Generally speaking, she has objected to everything said and done by the town and by Plainridge in this process. Her current complaint is that voters do not have enough information on Penn National. It seems to me that their reputation with both horsemen and the gambling industry is an indication that they are reputable people we can do business with. It would be nice if Ms.Greanier would simply admit that she doesn’t want the track and that she will oppose it on any grounds possible.

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It’s Not Over Until The Fat Lady Sings

It’s not over until the fat lady sings. Well, she is about to enter the green room to warm up. Yesterday I reported on the decision of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to rule out Plainridge Racecourse as a suitable applicant for a slot machine license (rightwinggranny.com). I support the slot machines for a variety of reasons and was very disheartened to read that the Gaming Commission had disqualified Plainridge. However, after reading about the reasons for the decision, I could totally understand why that decision was made.

If the decision stands, the Town of Plainville is the loser in this deal. Plainridge has operated in the town for fifteen years. Plainridge Racecourse is the only harness racing track in operation in Massachusetts. It has not made a profit during its time in Plainville, but has continually been a good neighbor to the town. It has paid taxes to the town and provided employment for a number of people in the town. There is a serious question as to whether or not Plainridge Racecourse will stay in business without the slot machine license. If Plainridge closes, is there a future for harness racing in Massachusetts? What happens to all of the beautiful horse farms in Plainville? So where are we now?

Domenic Longobardi was kind enough to give me a few minutes of his time today so I could ask him some questions about the past and future of Plainridge. He expressed disappointment that the Massachusetts Gaming Commission did not try to work with Plainridge to resolve the issue of misdeeds under previous management. He also pointed out that the people involved in those misdeeds are no longer in charge. He reminded me that from the time Plainridge was built the idea was to eventually bring in other avenues of gambling in order to keep the track afloat.

I asked Mr. Longobardi if the 9% of slot machine money that will go to support harness racing would be enough to keep Plainridge alive. He explained that the 9% of slot machine money would go to the harness racing purses–not to operating expenses at the tracks.

Mr. Longobardi mentioned the investment Plainridge has made in order to move forward with the slot machine permit. Plainridge has paid application fees to the Commonwealth of Massachuestts, paid consulting fees for the Town of Plainville, and invested money in a large parking garage to accommodate additional people visiting the facility.

Mr. Longobardi pointed out that although Ourway Realty is disqualified from obtaining the license to operate slot machines at Plainridge Racecourse, the location itself is not disqualified.

A reliable source told me this afternoon that there is another management organization planning to take over Plainridge and resubmit the application to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. That organization is experienced in the gaming industry and would actually be a better candidate to run Plainridge.

The bottom line is simple. It’s not over yet, and smart businessmen are working to find a solution that would meet the requirements of the Gaming Commission and the needs of the people of Plainville. I sincerely hope that something can be worked out.

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One Man’s Actions Result In A Major Loss For A Town

The Attleboro Sun Chronicle reported today that the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has removed Plainridge Race Track, Plainville, Massachusetts, from consideration from Massachusetts’ one slot machine license.

The article reports:

It voted unanimously that the owners of the harness track had failed to demonstrate they could properly run a gambling establishment after admitting they did not realize former President Gary Piontkowski had been taking money from the track for years.

The track is now out of the running for the state’s sole slot machine license that had had five suitors.

The actions of one man will cost the Town of Plainville a projected income of $2 million a year.

The article further reports:

“But it has always been our commitment to establish that the integrity of this process is our single highest priority. No other considerations will compromise that commitment. I would like to take this opportunity to commend the tremendous work by the Investigations and Enforcement Bureau as well as our many partners in their ongoing efforts on these important matters.”

The bureau had uncovered the Piontkowski practice of taking money from the track, while the track reported the actions as disbursements.

When the bureau began asking questions, Piontkowski was replaced in April, although he and track officials claimed it was for health reasons.

Chief Financial Officer Timothy Peterson then resigned and did not appear at a commission hearing on the matter.

Principals Stanley Fulton and Alfred Ross said they were unaware of the situation and were passive investors.

Plainridge Race Track has been losing money for years. The slot machines were considered something that would save the track and save harness racing in Massachusetts. It is unfortunate that the actions of one man may result in the death of harness racing in the state.

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When Government Actually Works

This is the link to the website for the Town of Plainville, Massachusetts. The town is run by a Board of Selectmen with an annual budget voted for by the voters in the town at an annual Town Meeting.

The issue before the Town right now is whether or not to allow Plainridge, a harness race track with simulcast racing in Plainville, to add 1200 slot machines to its facility. According to an internet directory of harness racing, there are only thirty-two harness racing tracks in North America.

There is a process that has to be followed to bring slot machines into a venue in Massachusetts. That process is controlled by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, and the Town of Plainville is in the midst of that process.

Tonight I attended a Board of Selectmen’s meeting where the agreement that has been reached between the Town and the owners of Plainridge was discussed and voted on by the Selectmen. The agreement was unanimously approved by the Selectmen, and the voters in the Town of Plainville will vote on whether or not they approve the slot machines on September 10th (after they have had a chance to review the agreement).

The agreement will be posted on the Town’s website, along with a summary of the agreement (for those who prefer Cliff Notes). There have been numerous hearings dealing with the impact of the slot machines on the small town, and there will be more hearings before the vote.

Plainridge race track has existed in the Town since 1998. Plainridge has been a very good neighbor to the town–exceeding public safety and security requirements at the track and giving generously to charities within the Town. I don’t gamble and am not interested in going there to gamble, but I believe they should be allowed to put in the slot machines simply because of the way they have conducted themselves in the Town in the past. As an observation, I don’t drink, but I’m not interested in closing down every establishment in Plainville that serves alcoholic beverages.

At any rate, I wrote this article to say how impressed I am with the way the government of Plainville is working through this process. The process has been transparent from the beginning, and the Selectmen have gone out of their way to make sure that the public is informed of the impact the slot machines will have on our little Town.

On September 10, I will be voting for the agreement–I am impressed with the management of Plainridge, and I am impressed with the leadership of the Town of Plainville.


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Respecting The Past

Tonight I attended a Board of Selectmen meeting in Plainville, Massachusetts. I attended the meeting to hear an update on a building in Plainville that has many wonderful memories for the people of the town. Falk’s Market, with the address of 2 East Bacon Street, has been neglected for many years. The building was bought by Jeff Kinney, a resident of the town, and the author of the Wimpy Kid book series.

Mr. Kinney and his wife, Julie, made the following statement at the meeting:

Good evening, and thanks for giving us a forum to discuss the status of the development of 2 East Bacon Street in downtown Plainville.

It’s been several months since we last appeared before the Board of Selectmen, and although outward appearances suggest little is happening with the property, we’ve been actively working on the project since we last met.

Earlier this year we hired a development manager, Bob Nicodemus, who has 30 years of experience as an architect, and attorney Dave Simmons, who has worked on several key development projects in the area, including the Lowes on Route One and the Plainville Commons shopping area. We’ve also been working with local architects and engineers to study the property and have made significant progress.

We recently conducted a pro forma evaluation of the property to see what a business would require to thrive at 2 East Bacon. It became evident early on that for the site to host a sustainable business, it would need more parking capacity. This summer we made an offer to acquire 8 East Bacon, the lot adjacent to Falk’s Market, and we’re happy to report that earlier today, we closed on that property. Having additional parking will give the business that occupies 2 East Bacon a chance to succeed.

As we previously reported, we had the existing Falk’s Market structure analyzed by two engineers in the spring. Their shared opinion was that the building has serious and widespread structural problems, and demolition was recommended. This summer we had a formal architectural study conducted on the property, and the result was the same. The major components of the building–the floors, ceilings, structural support, foundation, and the entire outer envelope all need to be replaced. After months of studies and analysis we feel certain that the building, in its current state, cannot reasonably be saved.

Therefore, we’ve made the difficult decision to take Falk’s Market down. This decision was not made lightly. Over the course of the past year, we’ve spoken with dozens of people who have great memories of the building and its proprietor, Merrill Falk. We don’t relish the idea of taking down Falk’s Market, but we feel that it’s the only practical option given the state of the building. We’d like to ask everyone in Plainville to support and encourage us in our goal to construct a new building where town residents can come together and make memories for generations to come.

As we’ve stated from the beginning, our hope is to create an iconic symbol of the downtown that all Plainville residents can be proud of. We recently started working with local architects to draw up plans for a building that fits downtown Plainville’s character. We have several preliminary concepts completed but we want to continue exploring different options before sharing them with the community at large.

The timetable for taking the building down has not yet been set, but when we do begin the process, we’ll take great care to preserve those parts of Falk’s Market that can be reused or repurposed.

This month, we’ll be filing applications with the Board of Health, the Redevelopment Authority and the Zoning Board to accelerate the development of 2 East Bacon. We look forward to working with the town to bring this project to fruition.

Thanks for your time, and we’d be happy to answer any questions.

What a wonderful attitude this statement represents. There will be many tears because the building cannot be saved, but the respect in their statement for the history of the building and the history of Plainville is fantastic. It is my hope that every resident of Plainville will support the Kinneys as they move forward with their plans for Falk Market, and that even though we are losing a part of our past, we can be excited about our future. Thank you Jeff and Julie Kinney for your commitment to Plainville. We are blessed to have you as part of our town.

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