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Springfield Officials Reject New MGM Casino Plan As "Incomplete"

Paul Tuthill

The top brass from MGM Resorts International are coming to Springfield, Massachusetts this week to do some fence- mending.  Mayor Domenic Sarno and other city officials were blindsided by MGM’s proposal to downsize the Springfield casino project by 14 percent.  But, a detailed public explanation of the reasons for the changes proposed in the project will likely not be forthcoming this week.

MGM Resorts International Chairman James Murran, President Bill Hornbuckle, and MGM Springfield President Mike Mathis will meet with Sarno and the mayor’s advisors Thursday and reaffirm their commitment to the Springfield project, according to a letter from Murran to Sarno that was made public by MGM.

In the letter, Murran apologizes for what he called a miscommunication that left Sarno – a major booster of the casino – in the dark about the significant proposed changes to the project contained in hundreds of pages of documents filed earlier this month with the state and the city.

MGM is proposing to reduce the development by 122,000 square feet, impacting space that was to be used for retail, dining, and non-gambling entertainment including a bowling alley and cinema. The company previously disclosed it wants to eliminate a marquee 25-story hotel tower from the project and build a six-story hotel with the same number of rooms – 250 – as the tower was to have had.

On Monday, the city’s Office of Planning and Economic Development rejected MGM’s site plan application for the project as “incomplete,” according to Springfield Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy.

"There is nothing dramatic about that," said Kennedy. " It is just that we need more information."

MGM officials are expected to respond in mid-November to the demand for more information, according to Kennedy.

" I am pretty patient about getting this," said Kennedy. " Projects of this size don't happen overnight."

Any changes in the project that materially alter the host community agreement between MGM and the city require approval by the mayor and city council.  The council must also approve the project’s site plan.  

Sarno has vowed not to approve any changes that negatively impact the jobs and revenue MGM has promised.

The city council held a special meeting Monday to learn more about the process for reviewing MGM’s proposals. 

Some councilors, who are campaigning for reelection next week, said they are getting an earful from constituents about the casino.   Councilor Bud Williams said people feel duped by the changes MGM has proposed.

" A full hotel, full bowling alley, a full arcade theater, a parking garage is what people voted on. We should give the people what they voted for," said Williams.

City Council President Mike Fenton vowed to take a hard line with MGM when it comes to the proposed changes.

" In order to win our consent, MGM is going to have to demonstrate they are providing other ancillary benefits above and beyond what was originally contracted for," said Fenton.  " There is no world in which I would vote for a unilateral change to allow MGM to reduce their project by 14 percent and eliminate their 25-story glass tower. It is just not going to happen."

    Fenton will ask the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to hold a meeting in Springfield to hear from councilors and residents about the MGM project.   The meeting was requested by Councilor Kateri Walsh.

" I am concerned we are not going to get a first-rate casino for the city of Springfield," said Walsh. "I do not want to end up with a box that is not going to have the draw and excitement (MGM) promised."

Chairman Stephen Crosby, in a statement last week, said the gaming commission will carefully review MGM’s latest proposal.  

MGM was awarded a state gaming license for the Springfield project in June 2014.

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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