In the dozen or so years it has been open, the MassMutual Center has a been a solid asset in Springfield — a great addition to the skyline and an important piece of the large, intricate puzzle that involves the revitalization of a city and its downtown.
But in most all respects, it has underperformed in its primary role — to bring new energy, vitality, and dollars to downtown Springfield and its businesses. You won’t hear elected officials or economic-development leaders use these exact words, but the center has, by most measures, been a disappointment as a ‘catalyst.’
Which is why MGM Springfield’s new role as sole venue manager at the facility should be greeted as very encouraging news for Springfield and this city moving forward. In simple terms, we feel, and the Mass. Convention Center Authority feels, that MGM Springfield has the ability to take the MMC, as it’s called, to a new and much higher level.
Alex Dixon, MGM’s energetic general manager, said it best, and very succinctly, when he told BusinessWest that the MMC is “a sleeping giant we plan to unleash.”
We think he’s right, and for many reasons. They include MGM’s connections in and reputation throughout the entertainment industry; its solid track record in managing similar venues (traditionally located within its facilities), continued progress in the revitalization of downtown Springfield, and, last but certainly not least, the $950 million MGM casino going up just across the street from the MMC, which will be a huge boost in efforts to bring meetings and conventions to Greater Springfield.
But let’s back up a minute. The MMC has not been a failed initiative in Springfield. Far from it, actually; it has been a much-needed addition to the region’s inventory of hospitality-related venues, and one that has brought a number of events to downtown Springfield, or back to downtown Springfield, as the case may be. And downtown hasn’t always been an easy sell for events.
Indeed, many of the significant events on the calendar — Bay Path’s Women’s Professional Development Conference, the Springfield Regional Chamber’s Outlook Luncheon, BusinessWest’s annual Business & Innovation Expo, Valley Venture Mentors’ Accelerator awards dinner, a host of college-commencement ceremonies, Springfield Thunderbirds games, and many other gatherings — now take place at 1277 Main St. And they will, in all likelihood, continue to happen at that address.
It’s the other 275-300 days of the year that have been the problem, for the most part. There have been some significant events, but, for the most part, it’s been smaller, budget-conscious groups that have been bringing their acts — literally and figuratively — to the City of Homes.
There is nothing wrong with cheerleader and dance competitions, basketball tournaments, and many of the other meetings and events that have been coming to the MMC, but this facility can and must do better. It’s an issue of both quality and quantity, and MGM Springfield will be of considerable help with both.
Regarding quantity, the casino will bring another dimension to Springfield’s already-successful efforts to sell itself to groups looking to convene for a day or a week. And quality does attract quality. MGM is a quality company that does quality work. Its name and reputation should be of enormous benefit in the ongoing work to prompt groups of all sizes to ‘think Springfield.’
Things are not going to change overnight — if only because many meetings and conventions are booked years, and even a decade or more, in advance. But certainly by the time MGM Springfield opens 13 or 14 months from now, there should be a discernable change in the quality and quantity of events coming to downtown Springfield.
A sleeping giant will be waking up.