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Casino Developer's Downtown Apartments Delayed

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MGM will likely miss a deadline for constructing part of its $950 million casino project in Springfield, Massachusetts.

An MGM executive told the Massachusetts Gaming Commission at a meeting Thursday that while the resort casino remains on schedule to open in September 2018, the 54 apartments MGM has pledged to build to help further revitalize downtown Springfield won’t be ready at the same time.

" Its a bit of a disappointment," said Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby who added   MGM is required to deliver on the housing as a condition of its casino license and host community agreement with the city of Springfield.

" I don't want there to be any misunderstanding, if something goes wrong we are not going to be happy because this was a critical element."

MGM initially planned to build apartments on the 14.5-acre site of the casino, but was forced to abandon those plans when the project underwent a major design change two years ago.

The host community agreement between MGM and the city calls for the development of 54 market-rate apartments within one-half mile of the downtown casino.

Last year, MGM purchased from the city for $600,000 a historic building at 195 State Street that most recently was the school department headquarters and announced plans to build apartments there. No construction has taken place at that location.

City officials have encouraged MGM to invest in the redevelopment of a long-vacant six-story former hotel building in Court Square, about a block from where the casino is being built.  That property at 31 Elm Street is owned by the Springfield Redevelopment Authority. The agency designated OPAL Real Estate Group as the preferred developer of the site.  The company is reportedly attempting a mixed use redevelopment.

Seth Stratton, MGM Springfield Vice President and General Counsel, said talks about MGM’s involvement in the project have dragged on and he asked the gaming commissioners to be patient.

" We understand the urgency to get some decision from the city and line up our obligations as soon as possible because the clock is ticking," said Stratton.

Crosby said he is willing to tolerate some further delay, but warned there would be “dire consequences” if the housing part of the project falls through.

" My dominant message is because the two of you are in this together, the city is committed to this as well, I am inclined to say yes ( to the appeal for patience)," said Crosby.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno issued a statement declaring his  commitment to redeveloping the 31 Elm Street property, even while conceding it has been “an albatross” around the necks of his and earlier administrations.

He described it as a “very complicated ‘bear’ of a project.”  Sarno also quoted from an Urban Land Institute report from a number of years ago that said the redevelopment of 31 Elm Street is the “linchpin” of transforming downtown Springfield.

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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