Mass Gambling Commission approves MGM Springfield redesign
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on May 12, 2016
Follow on Twitter
on May 12, 2016
SPRINGFIELD -- The Massachusetts Gaming Commission unanimously approved MGM Springfield's long-debated redesign during a meeting at the MassMutual Center Thursday morning.
"Seeing this again, it reminds me why we're really excited about it," said Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby. "It's a really exciting attempt to lift a city and integrate a casino into a whole lot of other stuff."
The redesign, which included the removal of a 26-story hotel tower in favor a low-rise six-story building and a reduction in the project's overall footprint, sparked months of controversy and discussion over whether the company was maintaining its full investment in the city.
The Springfield City Council approved the redesign in February by a 12-1 vote. With the commission's sign-off, all legal roadblocks appear to be cleared for the bulk of the project, with the exception of housing and daycare developments whose design has not been finalized.
MGM executives have said the company remains committed to the project, which is expected to open its doors in late 2018. The company has characterized the shift as both a cost saving measure as the casino's overall budget expanded from $800 million to $950 million, and as a means to better preserve downtown Springfield's historic character.
MGM Springfield President Michael Mathis described the project as a major boost to Springfield's economy. He touted the millions in yearly payments to the city, and an estimated $50 million in annual spending to local businesses, as evidence of the project's future impact.
"[The $950 million budget] makes it by far the largest private development project in Western Mass, and puts it on the list of the largest developments in the entire commonwealth, which frankly has for too long been centralized in the Boston and Cambridge area," Mathis said.
The hotel will have the same number of rooms and remain a four-star experience, Mathis said, comparing it to the XV Beacon and Hotel Commonwealth in Boston.
"You can have luxury that's not necessarily in a high-rise tower," Mathis said.
MGM Springfield Vice President and General Counsel Seth Stratton described the negotiations with the city council as extensive.
"It was a mild winter, but Mike and I were fortunate to miss most of the bad weather because we spent most of it in the Springfield City Council chambers," Stratton said.
Among the items hashed out with the city council, and affirmed by the gaming commission, were concessions to abutting property owners and commuters worried about the loss of public parking spaces.
- A commitment to allowing two-hour free parking from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the casino's surface lots, to replace lost street parking. The spaces will include handicapped spaces to replace those eliminated due to the project.
- At least 700 paid public parking spaces, to replace paid lots lost during casino development.
- For the Red Rose pizzeria: no street parking on either side of the street, with signage prohibiting parking and idling, along with the timing of traffic signals at Union and Main Streets.
- For Courthouse Park: the installation of an automated parking barrier, traffic signage and an ornamental fence, along with reconstruction of the sidewalk on north side of Bliss Street.
- For the Pride gas station on Union Street: MGM Springfield will install "do not block the box" street markings to mitigate traffic problems.
- The provision of public parking lots near the corner of East Columbus and Bliss Streets to address resident concerns.
The debate over the redesign led to brief tension between the company and the office of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, who has been one of the projects strongest supporters.
A Republican report on the footprint reduction, which MGM later said overstated the changes, caught the city by surprise and led to a press conference at city hall, during which MGM Resorts International CEO James Murren pledged to improve communication and said his faith in the project had "never wavered."
The city council granted authorized for the company to begin major site work on the 14.5 acres that will house the casino in Springfield's downtown in December. Buildings have been demolished and the historic First Spiritualist Church was moved last month, as the company prepares to start construction on its parking garage later this year.
The casino complex is expected to house 75 gaming tables, 3,000 slot machines and 250 room hotel. Some 2,000 construction jobs and 3,000 permanent jobs are expected to be created due to the project, according to MGM Springfield.
The commission's approval does not include plans for market-rate housing and a daycare facility, which are still in the planning phases and will be considered once they are finalized.