Officials in Springfield, Massachusetts have produced a plan they hope will spark development around the MGM casino.
A $5 million loan fund will be created, along with other incentives, in a bid by the city to spur redevelopment in the area surrounding the casino, where anticipated economic spin-offs have not occurred.
In fact, officials with the city’s office of Planning and Economic Development acknowledge blight has actually worsened in the area where the $1 billion casino complex opened in August 2018. Across Main Street from the casino stand a block of mostly empty commercial buildings with padlocks on the front doors and “for sale” signs in the windows.
" The conditions right now are beyond the capability of the private sector to resolve on its own and so government intervention is warrented" said Tim Sheehan, the city's chief development officer. He said a strategy for the area around the casino has been in the works for about a year.
"The grand scheme is to create a cohesive district," said Sheehan. "Right now the casino campus is spectacular and the other side of the street is lacking."
The plan includes creating a special zoning district that would include areas around the casino, the MassMutual Convention Center, and Court Square. The change would streamline the regulatory process for demolition and construction work. As an additional incentive, the city might also waive building permit fees.
The Springfield City Council will need to approve the zoning district.
During a recent meeting of the Casino Oversight Committee, City Councilor and State Senator-elect Adam Gomez, who represents Ward 1 where the casino is located, said downtown needs a shot in the arm.
"It is not a secret that the downtown is empty." said Gomez.
Also praising the plan was City Councilor and State Representative-elect Orlando Ramos.
"We have to do something to attract new businesses to this part of downtown," said Ramos. " It does not look good to have all these empty storefronts, so I am glad we are finally doing something about it.'
Prior to the pandemic, the casino brought tens of thousands of visitors to downtown Springfield, employed about 2,000 people, and spent tens of millions of dollars annually with local vendors. But an expected building boom in the neighborhood around the casino has been a bust.
Mayor Domenic Sarno blamed it on “speculators” – people who he said bought property with the mistaken belief MGM would buy them out.
"Those landowners lost the property because they did not do a damn thing with it -- they just sat on it," said Sarno. "But that is in the past. We are going to move forward."
Sheehan said informational meetings for business owners and residents in the proposed zoning district will be held before the City Council is asked to vote on it.
The funds for the loan program would come from the city’s share of federal Community Development Block Grants