Opinion

Casino is a Partnership Between City, MGM

Editorial

As he stood before the collected media recently to answer questions about an announced (sort of) 14% reduction in the size of his company’s planned South End casino, MGM Springfield President Mike Mathis was asked if he could promise that this change, which came atop a scrapping of plans for a 25-story hotel tower, would be the last.

He looked at the questioner with more than a hint of incredulity, and said, in essence, ‘absolutely not.’ In fact, he said the only thing he would promise was the opposite — that there would be more changes to come. Many of them.

The exchange drove home the fact that there is perhaps a lack of real understanding among the public, elected officials, and, yes, media members, about what happens with an $800 million building project in the middle of an urban center.

Someone building a $400,000 home on a one-acre parcel in Belchertown would probably make dozens, if not hundreds, of changes large and small between the time the first blueprints were drawn and the last of the landscaping details were completed. So why should it be any different with a nearly $1 billion casino being built over several blocks in Springfield’s downtown?

Technically, it isn’t any different, but in reality, it is. That’s because this is one of the first casinos to be built in Massachusetts, all eyes are certainly on this project, and most all of those eyes are looking through lenses coated with skepticism.

MGM has made promises, and elected officials, the gaming commission, and the public at large, want to make sure those promises are kept.

All that is fine, but we would advise the parties involved, especially Springfield’s elected officials, to keep their focus on the big picture, and that is working in partnership with MGM to create a casino that will be economically viable and an asset to the region.

That word partnership is critical in this equation, and both sides need to be mindful of it. MGM should understand that its partner is new to this casino industry and new to the process of building such a facility, and thus the lines of communication not only need to be open, but wide open.

In the company’s view, the 13.9% reduction in the size of the casino footprint is relatively minor, with the changes aimed at making the project more efficient and workable. But its leaders should understand that city officials won’t see it that way, and they need to be diligent in communicating this change and explaining it.

City officials, on the other hand, need to be mindful that this is a process, one where change will be a virtual constant. They also need to remember that Massachusetts is very late arriving to the table when it comes to gaming, and the competitive picture is changing rapidly, with perhaps more changes to come.

In comments made to the media recently — and in his op-ed piece at the bottom of this page — Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno vows to “keep MGM’s feet to the fire.” We would expect nothing less, and hope that the city will indeed micro-manage this project, but in a good way.

But while doing so, it should respect the company’s experience and track record  within the industry and, in simplistic terms, trust it to create a facility that the region can be proud of and that can thrive in the ultra-competitve environment that prevails in this industry.

Recent events notwithstanding, we believe MGM has earned that trust.

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