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Casino Company Outlines Plans For Springfield Site

A Nevada based gaming company says it is ready to build a casino on a former industrial site in Springfield Massachusetts.  The company says it has come up with a plan to address traffic concerns about the project, but it faces competition for a casino license.  WAMC”s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.

Ameristar  Casinos  purchased the former Westinghouse Electric Company property on Springfield’s east side  for $16 million dollars last January. All but one of the big brick manufacturing buildings that once stood on the 41 acre site have been razed. The demolition debris has been hauled away and the flat concrete covered property is ready for new construction.

Mathew Block, vice president of government relations for Ameristar says the project his company will propose in Springfield includes a 650 room hotel, parking for 6000 cars, and a casino with thousands of slot machines and more than 100 table games.  Also, restaurants , bars and retail.

The property abuts Interstate 291  and is fronted by a busy commercial street that includes a mix of  small businesses. It is on the outskirts of a residential neighborhood of mostly single family homes. At a neighborhood meeting with Ameristar officials last winter, traffic was a top concern, and Block says there is  now a plan to address that.

Ameristar’s traffic plan has not yet been presented to officials with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, because Block says the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has forbidden casino operators from contacting any state agencies.

Ameristar is the only gaming company to have publicly identified a site in Springfield for a casino. In fact, it is the only casino developer that owns land in Massachusetts. Ameristar officials are planning to met next month with the Springfield City Council’s Casino Site Committee.

The 15 member  committee, chaired by a retired police chief, was appointed earlier this year by City Council President James Ferrera to advise the council, which has control over land use. Ferrera says the committee is anxious to hear from Ameristar and any other casino developers.

City officials have said that based on informal discussions with developers they expect as many as four casino projects could be proposed.   Three different locations in the city’s downtown are reportedly being scoped out by gaming companies.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said with the help of Chicago based law firm he has hired as his casino consultant, he will eventually select a preferred developer

The gaming commission is authorized by state law to award one casino license  anywhere in the four western most counties.  Before a license application is filed, the casino developers and local officials must negotiate a host community agreement. That site specific agreement must be ratified by a voter referendum.

State law gives  cities the size of Springfield , and Boston  the option to hold the referendum in just the ward where the casino would be built. Springfield officials have said it will be a city wide vote.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.