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Mass. Top Casino Regulator Calls MGM Springfield Design Changes "Significant"

construction workers in front of buidling

MGM wants to shrink by 14 percent its proposed resort casino development in Springfield, Massachusetts. The proposal surprised and angered the city’s mayor, who has been one of the project’s biggest boosters.

MGM confirmed plans late Tuesday to cut the size of the Springfield casino project by roughly 122,000 square feet, devoting less space than originally planned to retail, dining, and non-gambling entertainment. It drew a strong reaction from city officials who were blindsided by the news, which came just weeks after MGM’s stunning decision to scrap plans for a marquee 25-story hotel tower.

Mayor Domenic Sarno said these latest changes, first revealed in an over 100-page environmental impact report filed late last week with the state, had not been discussed when he met just two weeks ago with top officials of the Las Vegas-based company.

" I find it incomprehensible that when they spoke about the movement of the hotel there was no mention of any change to any other amenities," said Sarno.

Sarno said his administration will closely review the impact the changes could have on the jobs and revenue MGM has promised.

" I have not, nor will I, approve any changes that has a negative impact," Sarno said.

 The city’s chief development officer, Kevin Kennedy, said he is most concerned by what appears to be a nearly 33 percent reduction in the space set aside for retail stores in the casino. The other proposed downsizing impacts a planned movie theater and a bowling alley.

MGM Springfield President Mike Mathis held a news conference about an hour after Sarno’s and defended the changes in the $800 million project as “design tweaks.”

"“We remain committed to everything we campaigned for,” he said. “That is, the largest private economic development project in this region, certainly in Springfield's history. That is  a billion dollars of payments over four years to the city of Springfield, 3,000 jobs, 2,000 construction jobs and a world class resort."

Mathis apologized for not informing the mayor’s office about the changes earlier.

" We could always communicate better," he said. " I put that on myself. I know our executives feel the same way."

The Springfield City Council and the Massachusetts Gaming Commission must approve the new design for the casino project.

Springfield City Council President Mike Fenton , who had been very critical of MGM’s proposal to eliminate the hotel tower from project, said he is skeptical  that the reduction in the size of the development won’t impact jobs and revenue.

"I remain concerned about the design changes and my position has been and will remain that any changes of that nature will require consideration to the city of Springfield," said Fenton.

City Councilor Bud Williams called for an urgent meeting with MGM officials.

" I am very stunned, and I am very disappointed," Williams said of the project downsizing.

Another veteran Springfield City Councilor, Tim Rooke, said he still has full confidence that MGM will build a resort casino that will deliver the dollars and jobs promised when the city’s voters approved the project two years ago.

"We still have a great project," said Rooke.  " We still have a great casino. We will have family entertainment, hotel rooms, and attracting 8 million new people to Springfield a year. That to me is a pretty good project in economic development terms."

Gaming commission chairman Stephen Crosby in a statement Wednesday said, “The recently proposed design changes by MGM Springfield are significant and they will be closely reviewed” by the commission.

It has been more than a year since MGM was awarded a casino license by the state gaming commission for the Springfield project, but very little construction work has taken place.  MGM has fenced off the downtown site, but has yet to demolish any of the 19 buildings that must be razed.

The gaming commission in August approved a one year delay in the project schedule, pushing back the casino opening to September 2018. MGM blamed the Interstate 91 reconstruction for the need to delay the grand opening.

MGM is facing the threat of increased competition from Connecticut where the tribes that run the state’s two casinos have teamed up in a bid to develop a third casino in the Hartford area.  They expect to announce a site by the end of the year.

MGM has filed a federal court lawsuit to try to stop a third Connecticut casino.

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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