ROXBURY, NJ – One Roxbury official called it “harebrained” and his colleagues similarly scoffed, but Mitchell Horn truly believes it would be a good idea to build a casino on the former Hercules Powder Co. land in Roxbury.
Nobody really knows what lies beneath the surface of the 1,200-acre site, a place where Hercules made explosives for 125 years and is believed to have buried all sorts of toxic, and possibly explosive stuff. The land has remained fenced-off and undeveloped since Hercules closed in 1996, with much of the property protected from development by state and local prohibitions.
Horn, a Democrat who lives in Montville, said he is aware of the uncertainty about hidden sub-surface surprises, restrictive regulations and the anticipated cost of cleaning the property. Nevertheless, he said he believes the hurdles are outweighed by the potential benefits of erecting a gaming resort on the land, the largest undeveloped piece of private property in Morris County.
“In my research on the county, I found that there are a few properties that economic development groups have been trying to attract businesses to for a number years,” said Horn, who has an MBA and works for Nestle as a finance manager. “One of them is the Hercules site in Roxbury.”
Another, he said, is the former BASF headquarters in Mount Olive.
Horn’s idea for the Hercules site was mentioned, and derided, by Roxbury Councilman Bob DeFillippo at a recent meeting of the Roxbury Mayor and Council. DeFillippo’s wife, Morris County Freeholder Director Kathryn DeFillippo, is a Republican seeking re-election in November.
“A fellow by the name of Mitchell Horn who apparently identifies himself as a candidate for freeholder, a Democratic candidate for freeholder in November, appeared before the freeholder board at their last meeting and suggested that you could build a casino on the Hercules property,” said DeFillippo.
Laughter ensued, with Roxbury Township Attorney Anthony Bucco declaring, “Jackpot!”
“I’m hoping he assumed we’d have something to say on that,” said Roxbury Mayor Jim Rilee.
“Well, apparently, he didn’t bother asking us,” replied DeFillippo. “So, one, I want to first register absolute opposition and my personal perspective to a kind of a harebrained scheme to put a casino in Roxbury.Two, I suggest that Mr. Horn go to Montville, where he lives, and put it in the community where his children go to school and where they play in playgrounds, and keep it out of Roxbury.”
DeFillippo said he mentioned Horn’s idea because “frankly, this is the type of thing where, if you don’t say something, it may take on a life of its own.”
Indeed, Horn wouldn’t mind if his idea did just that. He thinks Morris County taxpayers and businesses would love the influx of money a casino could bring.
“I take it the site is environmentally damaged, so I was thinking this could be a win-win,” he said. “It would be an opportunity to clean up an environmentally damaged piece of property - and have a private corporation spend money to clean it up - while and at same time attracting a big investment for a casino.”
Horn acknowledged “in general the freeholders are not supportive of having a casino in Morris County,” and are “taking a conservative approach” due to possible public criticism.
“I’m looking at it from a different perspective,” he said. “I don’t know if the public’s been given chance to think through it. If they thought about the property tax savings they could eventually benefit from, they would give it a second thought.”