Massachusetts casino regulators have approved a redesign of the MGM Springfield casino with the chairman of the state gaming commission saying he remains excited about the project’s potential to lift the economically struggling city.
Following the lead of local elected officials, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, meeting in Springfield, voted unanimously Thursday to approve the site plan and design for the $950 million casino project, which has undergone significant changes since the five-member commission awarded MGM a license almost two years ago.
Citing a need to control rising construction costs, MGM officials last fall revealed plans to downsize the project by roughly 10 percent. The most striking change is the elimination of a 25-story glass façade hotel tower from the original plans.
Chairman Stephen Crosby said he does not believe the changes fundamentally alter the project.
" Seeing this again reminds me of why we were excited about it," said Crosby. " It is a really exciting attempt to lift a city."
The gaming commission held several meetings to review the proposed redesign and conducted a public hearing in Springfield.
The Springfield City Council voted 12-1 in February to approve the new design after Mayor Domenic Sarno endorsed the changes.
" We pretty much felt if they ( local officials) were ok with things, we would be ok with things, so long as it did not remove any of the absolutely critical variables that were part of the deal. We felt the tower was not one of those critical variables," Crosby told reporters.
The plans approved by the gaming commission include the casino gaming floor, a six-story, 252 room hotel, a 3,400 space parking garage, and space for amenities such as restaurants, a bowling alley, movie theater, and outdoor plaza that will have an ice skating rink in the winter.
There are still some parts of the project the commission has not signed-off on. MGM is still designing a retail block on Main Street and an on-site childcare center. MGM must also find locations downtown to build 54 units of market rate housing that were removed from the casino footprint because of the redesign.
Crosby said the housing is a vital part of the project.
" This proposal has always been about mixed use, and having nice market- rate housing where people can live and help build into the fabric of the community as it is going through this uplift is part of the mixed use and is particularly exciting. I would be incredibly reluctant to lose that," he said.
MGM has not been sitting idly by waiting for the city and state to approve the redesign. Crews have been working since January to clear the 14.5-acre site for the downtown casino. More than a dozen buildings have been razed. Last month, a 4,000 ton historic church was lifted off the space where the gambling floor will be built and moved 200 yards to a new location.
MGM Springfield President Mike Mathis estimates the work site is now 90 percent clear.
" I don't want to jinx it, but we are making great progress on the site," Mathis said after Thursday's commission vote. " We don't see any impediments in front of us in terms of approvals or any other issues."
MGM announced Thursday a contract to build the seven-level 3,400 space parking garage has been awarded to Tishman Construction, an international firm, and Fontaine Bros. Inc, which is based in Springfield.
Work on the parking garage is expected to begin this month and be completed by the end of 2017.
The casino is expected to open in September 2018.