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MGM Breaks Ground For $800 Million Springfield Casino

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WAMC
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Hundreds gathered today for the official groundbreaking of the MGM Springfield casino. The event marked a milestone in the development of the casino industry in Massachusetts and the planned transformation of downtown Springfield.

Against the backdrop of a tornado-damaged nearly century old former elementary school MGM officials welcomed elected officials, business and civic leaders, neighborhood residents, and state gaming industry regulators to celebrate the symbolic kickoff of construction of the state’s first casino resort.

MGM Resorts Chairman James Murren said when the casino opens in 2017 it will be a showcase for his international entertainment company.

" MGM Springfield will bring new experiences, new vitality and most importantly jobs for the people of Springfield and the region," he said.

The MGM Springfield casino is to provide 2,000 construction jobs over the next 30 months, and 3,000 permanent jobs when it opens.  The casino will have 3,000 slot machines, 75 table games, a 250 room hotel, restaurants, retail stores, a movie theater, a bowling alley,  and apartments.

The casino is projected to generate $250 million in annual revenue for the state and provide the city of Springfield with up to $24 million annually.  Surrounding towns are also to receive millions in payments for public safety and infrastructure improvements tied to the additional traffic that is expected to result.

Murren said he is unfazed by the prospect of new casinos that are being proposed in Connecticut to draw customers away from the MGM Springfield casino.

" I can't control what other people do. We've always learned that if we build the best resorts we will prevail," he said. " We are number one in Las Vegas and we will be number one in this market."

The MGM casino is being built on 14.5 acres within three city blocks downtown. The area was in the path of the powerful tornado that hit western Massachusetts on June 1, 2011.  At Tuesday’s groundbreaking, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno recalled the devastation he saw as he walked through the area a few hours after the tornado hit.

" And now from the rubble rises a phoenix and that is MGM," he said to applause from the audience.

MGM is still waiting for state and local permits, including permission from the Massachusetts Historical Commission, before the first significant work can start on the $800 million project.  Plans call for the demolition of 19 buildings, beginning with the old Zanetti school, by the end of the year.

MGM Springfield President Mike Mathis said there is no cause for concern about the project’s timetable being significantly disrupted by the permitting snags.

"Everybody wants to see this project happen, so we are not concerned," he said.

Ray Caporale, who grew up in South End neighborhood where the casino is being built, said the changes that lie ahead are bittersweet.

" We use to play a lot of  stick ball over there," he said pointing to the wall of the Zanetti school.  " You hate to lose it, but progress has to move forward. We need something to revitalize the city and the South End and this is the start."

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission in June awarded MGM the only resort casino license authorized for western Massachusetts.   The resort casino license for greater Boston was assigned to Wynn Resorts, which has not started construction.

The state’s first casino, which will have only slot machines, is scheduled to open June 24th in Plainville at a harness racetrack that is undergoing a $125 million redevelopment. It will be operated by Penn National Gaming.

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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