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MGM President Pledges Commitment To Springfield Casino

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WAMC
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A top official with MGM Resorts International Monday pledged the company’s strong commitment to building a casino in Springfield. MGM upped the ante by announcing plans to take a former school department building off the city’s hands and redevelop it.

MGM Resorts International President Bill Hornbuckle met privately with Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno in his city hall office, with Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker joining in by phone, and pledged the company’s strong commitment to the casino project that has been delayed at least a year, and is now undergoing a controversial redesign.

Later, Hornbuckle, along the MGM executives and Sarno, held a news conference to make public the assurances he said were given in private.

" We have not gone anywhere. We will not go anywhere," he pledged. " We will be here through the end of this."

 Sarno requested the meeting with Hornbuckle after MGM’s surprise disclosure two weeks ago that it wanted to abandon plans for a 25-story glass façade hotel in favor of a more modest six-story design. MGM officials have blamed “skyrocketing” construction costs for the change.

" I am as disappointed as all of you in that the marquee of a high rise tower won't be on the I-91 corridor," said Hornbuckle.  " We are going to move the guest room experience up to Main St.  Many urban planners will tell you that is a better experience for the downtown corridor."

Hornbuckle insisted MGM is not blinking in the face of potential competition from Connecticut. The tribes that operate Connecticut’s two casinos are maneuvering to build a third casino to compete directly with MGM Springfield.

" I've been asked if Connecticut comes into play. The answer is unequivocally no," said Hornbuckle.

Hornbuckle said MGM will end up spending more than the $800 million it promised on the Springfield project despite the removal of the hotel tower. The casino is scheduled to open in September 2018, a year later than originally proposed because of the reconstruction of Interstate 91 in front of the casino site.                              

City Council President Mike Fenton said removing the high-rise hotel from the casino project takes away the “wow” factor.  Members of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission said it is a major change from the casino project they awarded a license to in 2014.

Both the city council and gaming commission must OK the new design.

Sarno said he is still reserving judgment on the proposed design changes, but is satisfied by the assurances from MGM officials that the project will go forward.

" Let me reiterate to you, the deal we negotiated with MGM, everything we agreed to will come to fruition," said Sarno.

Sarno said Governor Baker was on the phone for part of the meeting with MGM officials. Baker has been lukewarm to casinos in Massachusetts, but he has spoken highly of the MGM Springfield project, believing it can help revitalize an economically depressed area of the city.

Even with the hotel tower gone, Dan D’Alma, the president of the Pioneer Valley Building Trades Council, believes the casino project will still provide 2,000 construction jobs, as MGM promised.

" There is a lot of work to be done there. There is still 250 ( hotel) rooms, so there is going to be a lot of work there," said D'Alma

Monday’s news conference was held on the steps of the former Springfield School Department headquarters on State St., where MGM officials announced plans to purchase the three-story century old building and redevelop it.  The plan is to put  apartments in the building.

Springfield Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy said putting market-rate housing on the site has been the city’s goal since the school department moved out five years ago.

MGM Springfield President Mike Mathis said the company is in talks to redevelop more apartments at other downtown locations.

Housing was to have been built as part of the casino, but it must move off-site to accommodate the hotel redesign.

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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