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Hard Rock Pitches Casino Development At Big E Site

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Hard Rock Hotels and Casinos
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The competition to build a resort casino in western Massachusetts became more robust Friday. Hard Rock International unveiled plans for an entertainment complex in West Springfield on the grounds where the Big E agricultural fair is held.  WAMC”s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief  Paul Tuthill reports.

   Hard Rock International Chairman Jim Allen revealed plans for what he said would be a project in the $700 to $800 million range on the campus of Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield. He said his company had paid a $400,000 non refundable fee to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to become an official applicant for the lone casino license available in western Massachusetts.

   Hard Rock will compete with MGM Resorts and Penn National Gaming that have projects proposed just across the Connecticut River in downtown Springfield.  And, Mohegan Sun has long planned a casino in Palmer.

   As with all the propoals, Hard Rock’s comes with the promise of millions of dollars in local tax revenue and thousands of jobs for local residents.

   Hard Rock’s proposal includes a 200,000 square foot state of the art casino with more than 100 table games and more than 2500 slot machines. There would be a 400 room hotel with a spa, an indoor pool and of course, a Hard Rock Café.  There are also plans for a  live music venue and a 150,000 square foot convention center.

   Hard Rock will lease 38 acres from the Eastern States Exposition for an as yet undisclosed sum. Exposition CEO Gene Cassidy said the partnership does not jeopardize his organization’s standing as a public charity and he said the 17 day Big E agricultural fair, which is one of the oldest and largest in the country will continue its current form each September.

   Cassidy said the deal with Hard Rock will bring in money to improve the infrastructure and insure the future of the institution that was founded almost a century ago.

   Cassidy said other agricultural fairs have turned to gambling as a means to survive. He pointed to the Calgary Stampede and the Erie County Fair in western New York as examples.

   The project comes with unresolved issues of traffic and parking. The Big E grounds are off a busy commercial thoroughfare,which during the two week run of the fair is clogged with cars and trucks. West Springfield Mayor Jeffrey Neffinger announced the creation of a special commission to study the casino proposal and said he would keep an open mind.

   Hard Rock’s announcement was made an invitation only luncheon for about 200 people. It included a red carpet walkway  lined with display cases holding some of Hard Rock’s prized collection of music memorabilia, such as a Gene Simmons guitar, a dress that belonged to Katy Perry and Michael Jackson’s red jacket from Thriller. 80’s rock singer and reality TV star Bret Michaels performed live.

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.
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