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Historic Preservation Award Sought For MGM Casino

Casino regulators in Massachusetts have endorsed an application by MGM to receive an award for historic preservation for the design and construction of its Springfield resort casino.

Rather than level and haul away everything that was on the 14-and-a-half acre site when construction of the $960 million project started in 2015, MGM’s architects and contractors took pains to preserve some of the structures and artifacts to later be incorporated into the modern casino complex.

The result is a place devoid of Las Vegas-like glitz and full of New England sensibilities, as MGM Springfield President Mike Mathis noted just before the doors opened to the public last August.

"This is going to be very sublte and a little bit more comfortable and relaxed and we are leveraging that to create one of the most unigue experiences in the industry," said Mathis.

Everywhere in the resort, from the gambling floor to the 250-room hotel to the many restaurants, there are design touches that pay tribute to Springfield’s past and preserve part of the history of the site where the casino now stands.

Examples include the main entrance that has the façade of the 1846 Chandler Hotel. The giant stained glass dome from the 1912 Union Electric building is part of the ballroom space. Chairs that came from the Zanetti School that was torn down are used throughout the resort.  Wood from trees cut down for the casino construction was used to make tables in the hotel suites.

A state armory, built in 1895, was restored and renovated and is now used as the venue for a comedy club.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said the casino project shows economic development and historic preservation can co-exist.

" Where we could and it made sense, including fiscal sense, where we could do historic preservation we did," said Sarno.

One of the most noteworthy steps MGM took when it came to historic preservation was an expensive and complex project undertaken in April 2016 to relocate a 130-year-old red brick High Victorian Gothic Church.

The church was removed from the ground, rested atop steel girders with wheels, and slowly moved a distance of 200 yards.   It now houses a retail outlet for a candle company.

Watching as the church was slowly being moved, Massachusetts Gaming Commissioner Bruce Stebbins praised MGM.

"It shows MGM's attention to detail in this whole project," said Stebbins.

Stebbins asked the full gaming commission at a meeting this month to support MGM’s application for the historic preservation award.  The vote was unanimous.

In a letter to the Massachusetts Historical Commission, the casino regulators wrote “In the global gaming industry, we are confident that there is not a project that compares with the distinctiveness of this resort casino and goal to be a destination located in the heart of an urban community.”

The award MGM has applied for is in   the category of adaptive reuse.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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