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Casino Mitigation Funds Sought For CATV Studio Move

Massachusetts casino industry regulators will be asked to help pay to build a new studio for Springfield’s public access cable television.  It is the latest request to tap a fund established to mitigate problems arising from the construction of resort casinos in the Bay State. 

Three years after moving into a new $1 million downtown studio, Focus Springfield Community Television has been told to vacate the building by November so that it can become part of the MGM resort casino under construction. 

 Focus Springfield executive director John Abbott said money is being sought from the Mitigation Fund controlled by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

"Our lease has been terminated. That is certainly a factor that needs to be mitigated," said Abbott.

Relocating the production facilities to a new building is estimated to cost $900,000. MGM has offered to pay $300,000. The balance to cover the relocation expenses will be sought from the multi-million dollar Mitigation Fund.

In June 2014, Focus Springfield dedicated a 6,500-square foot video production and studio facility in a long-vacant retail space on the ground floor of an 8-story office building at State and Main Streets.  Sidewalk-to-ceiling glass windows were installed in a bid to draw more attention to the area and spur additional development.

      MGM later bought the building for $8.4 million.

"We are obviously disappointed. It is tough to think about moving," said Abbott. " On the other hand, MGM coming to Springfield is probably the single greatest thing to happen to the city in decades. It represents true economic development progress and we are not going to stand in the way of progress."

      He said Focus Springfield is actively looking for new site.

"There are several locations we have found and we are keying on them now to figure out which one will suit our needs best and which one we can afford," Abbott said in an interview.

The community television operation, financed by the city’s cable provider Comcast, affords Springfield residents an opportunity to develop and produce programs on three public access channels on the cable system.  It also provides gavel-to-gavel live coverage of City Council and School Committee meetings.

The gaming commission previously authorized payments from the Mitigation Fund of up to $2 million to relocate a substance abuse treatment center operated by the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, and $140,000 to help solve parking problems at a community health center located across the street from the casino construction site.

 MGM bought and later tore down the building where the Western Massachusetts Correctional Substance Abuse Center had operated for decades.  It relocated to a vacant nursing home in Springfield.

The Mitigation Fund is paying for a valet parking program for patients of Caring Health Center.  President and CEO Tania Barber said the loss of hundreds of on-street and off-street parking spaces because of the casino project caused a real hardship for patients of the South Main Street clinic.

"A lot of our patients were not keeping their appointments, either not showing up or transferring to other medical facilities because they did not want to deal with not having a place to park," Barber said in an interview earlier this year. 

    She  said the valet parking program that started in mid-January is working well.

The gaming commission approved a $247,500 payment from the Mitigation Fund to West Springfield to cover higher than anticipated design costs to reconstruct Memorial Ave.  The thoroughfare that leads to a bridge over the Connecticut River into downtown Springfield is expected to see a significant increase in traffic when the casino opens in 2018.

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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