Now that MGM has opened the $960 million resort casino in downtown Springfield, Massachusetts, the company is facing a deadline to commit to a project to build off-site housing.
To satisfy its commitment to create up to 54 market-rate apartments in downtown Springfield, MGM officials continue to pursue a proposed investment in a project to redevelop an historic long-vacant building at Court Square, just a block from the new casino.
MGM Springfield President Mike Mathis, speaking at a meeting this month of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, said there is reason for optimism that the long-delayed renovation of the six-story building at 31 Elm Street could actually happen.
"There's a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel on this building which I know we are all trying to activate, if we can," said Mathis.
Mayor Domenic Sarno and the city’s chief economic development officer, Kevin Kennedy, have encouraged MGM’s possible involvement in the project to redevelop 31 Elm, which an urban renewal study a decade ago identified as a top priority.
The block-long building has been vacant for about 30 years as various redevelopment proposals have fallen through. The owner of the property, the Springfield Redevelopment Authority, designated Opal Real Estate of Springfield and WinnDevelopment of Boston to lead the latest effort.
When it was first proposed last year that MGM put $11 million into the project, the projected total cost was estimated at $35 million - $45 million. But new estimates put the price tag at $50 million - $55 million.
Seth Stratton, vice president and general counsel of MGM Springfield, said there have been “productive talks” with city and state officials and the development group about how to finance the project.
" I don't think we are there yet, but we are closer than we have every been and for that reason we continue to have regular discussions," said Stratton.
He said a decision will be made before the March 1, 2019 deadline set by the gaming commission for MGM to commit to the project or move on.
"We have more hope in its viability than we've had previously based on some recent discussions," said Stratton.
The state’s casino regulators have been patient with MGM as its plans to develop housing downtown have repeatedly changed.
Initially, MGM was going to build apartments within the resort casino complex. When the project underwent a major redesign in 2015, the housing was moved off-site.
MGM purchased the former Springfield Public Schools central office building and announced it would put housing there, but later gave up on that idea.
Before zeroing in on the 31 Elm Street location, MGM reportedly looked at other vacant available properties in the downtown area.