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Council Approves MGM Springfield Casino Design Changes

An artists rendering of the proposed MGM Casino in Springfield, MA
MGMSpringfield
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The first casino approved for construction in western Massachusetts cleared a milestone regulatory hurdle Monday night in Springfield. The city council approved the site plan for the MGM Springfield casino.

The council voted 12-1 to approve the site plan for the $950 million casino project and to accept changes to the host community agreement with MGM that eliminates a 25-story hotel tower from the project.

The vote culminated intense debate in the city that erupted last September when MGM, in a series of regulatory filings, initially revealed intentions to downsize the project it first brought to the city three years ago that had won enthusiastic approvals from elected officials, city voters, and the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

MGM Springfield President Mike Mathis said he was excited the council had approved the site plan, which clears the way for construction permits to be issued.

"The good news for the public and ourselves is you are going to see this project come out of the ground late this summer and early fall," said Mathis. " It is going to be really exciting."

 Last month, MGM began demolishing buildings on the three-block, 14.5-acre site in the South End of downtown Springfield where the casino will be built. The site prep work was necessary to hold to a construction schedule that has the casino opening to the public in September 2018.

"We are absolutely on track for our opening in the fall of '18," Mathis confirmed.

The council held six public meetings on the site plan for the casino, listened to dozens of speakers, and reviewed hundreds of pages of documents. At one hearing that stretched on for five hours, MGM officials discussed the plans in detail and answered numerous questions from councilors.

" Change is difficult for all of us, but I think we answered their questions and at the end of the day they believe in MGM more than any specific element of the design and they believe in our commitment to the city," said Mathis.

The major change in the project design from what MGM presented to the city initially is the elimination of a 25-story glass façade hotel tower. MGM officials said they decided to scrap it to save about $75 million in construction costs.  The casino will have a six-story hotel, still with 250 rooms.

Another change relocates 54 units of market-rate housing to a location outside the casino footprint.

City Council President Mike Fenton cast the only vote opposed to the site plan and amended host community agreement.

" I have been and will remain a supporter of MGM Springfield. I have been and will remain an opponent to these design changes," Fenton said after the vote late Monday night.

Several councilors publically criticized MGM for eliminating the hotel tower that would have been the first addition to the city’s downtown skyline in decades, but in the end voted to approve the change.  Councilor Kateri Walsh said as much as she disliked not having a high-rise built, the project must go forward.

" People are anxious for a positive change in the city of Springfield, and I did not feel I could hold that up because I liked a particular design better," Walsh said.

The MGM casino has been billed as the largest economic development project in the city’s history. MGM says it will employ a total of 2,000 construction workers and provide jobs for 3,000 once the casino opens.

The host community agreement calls for MGM to pay the city $25 million annually.

The site plan approved by the council includes conditions to address concerns raised by abutters over parking, pedestrian access and traffic.

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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