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I-91 Project Pushes MGM Casino Opening To September 2018

An elevated portion of highway in Springfield, Ma.
WAMC
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The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has approved a delay in the opening date for the MGM Springfield casino because of a highway reconstruction project.   The casino regulators Thursday also signed off on an historic preservation plan that should clear the way for the Las Vegas-based entertainment giant to obtain the final permits required to begin building the state’s first resort casino. 

The commission voted 5-0 at a meeting in Boston to approve a construction schedule for the $800 million casino that sets an opening day in September 2018 – a year later than originally planned.  The change is due to concerns that the reconstruction of I-91 through downtown Springfield could wreck havoc on the casino’s opening-day business and threaten its long-term success.

The highway project, which was originally scheduled to be well under way by now, is only just beginning and is expected to take up to three years to finish.  Ramps to the highway directly in front of the casino site will be closed for the duration of the project.

Although MassDOT says the I-91 project could be finished by the end of 2017, MGM Springfield President Mike Mathis said it is prudent to assume the work won’t be done until the summer of 2018.

" We really appreciate the efforts by MassDOT to accelerate the schedule, but we all know issues happen so we feel more comfortable with the August ( completion) date for all the commitments we have to make," he said.

MGM first proposed the delayed opening to the gaming commission at a meeting on June 25.

"  We feel strongly this is the right decision. It is a difficult decision," Mathis said at the June 25th meeting of the gaming commission.

Massachusetts stands to lose out on an estimated $125 million in revenue as a result of the one-year delay in opening the Springfield casino.

MassDOT has layered incentives into the contract for the I-91 project that rewards the contractor with a $50,000 per-day bonus for finishing the work up to six months ahead of schedule.  There are $50,000 per-day penalties if the project is not finished in August 2018.

Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack, in an interview with WAMC this week, said finishing the I-91 project as soon as possible is a top priority.

"  We are going to work as hard as possible to finish as soon as possible, not just for MGM, but for all the folks in Springfield who are going to be disrupted. All the small businesses that may find it harder for their customers or employees to get to work. So, our incentive is to act as quickly as we can," said Pollack.

MGM’s plan to delay the casino project because of the highway work has been endorsed by Mayor Domenic Sarno and the Springfield Chamber of Commerce.  Chamber President Jeff Ciuffreda said first impressions of the casino are critical to its success.

"  That's why when MGM as their grand opening, it has to be grand, not just an opening," he said.

The gaming industry regulators Thursday also unanimously approved an historic preservation agreement for the MGM casino project.

The agreement, which was the result of lengthy negotiations between MGM and the Massachusetts Historical Commission details plans to preserve in whole, or in part, some of the registered historical properties that stand where the casino complex will be built.

MGM and the gaming commission will put $350,000 each into an historic preservation trust fund.

Commissioner James McHugh praised the agreement.

" The preservation work that has been done is very high quality and the spirit with which it was done has impressed me from the beginning," he said.

The resolution on the fate of the historic properties clears the way for MGM to prepare a final plan for the project for approval by the Springfield City Council. 

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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