City will “Keep MGM’s Feet to the Fire”
By Domenic J. Sarno
In July 2013, when Springfield voters approved MGM’s development of an $800 million hotel-casino complex in our downtown, it was an historic event and the culmination of a two- year process. The vote backed a vision of transformation for an area destroyed by a tornado and a city devastated by the loss of manufacturing jobs. As I stated then, the proposal would not be a panacea, but, as the largest development in the history of Western Massachusetts, the benefits outweighed the costs, and it was worth pursuing.
In addition to local approval, last November in a state-wide referendum, support from voters in virtually every city and town across the Commonwealth validated our selection process. In fact, the Mass. Gaming Commission recommended to the Japanese government, which is considering legalizing casinos, that they study Springfield’s selection process. Based on their recommendation, last month the Japanese government sent its representatives to interview me and our internal team about how we established the process.
However, I have always known that, no matter how successful we were in attracting and reaching a contract with one of the largest corporations in the entertainment and gaming industry, the most difficult part would be making sure that the development was completed as promised.
To assist us in the enforcement of the promises made by MGM, we have a binding host community agreement with enforceable legal remedies and damages for non-compliance. In addition, I have the assurances of the chairman of the Mass. Gaming Commission that he will defer to the City’s design concerns in the commission’s enforcement of MGM’s gaming license conditions. These tools will allow us to keep MGM’s feet to the fire, and should assure the naysayers that, working together, we can be successful in seeing the fruits of our labor and our hopes and expectations realized.
Indeed, these tools already helped us negotiate through the I-91 delay, and I will continue to aggressively enforce the binding agreement in the negotiation of any changes that are in the best interests of the city. As further proof that this process works, although I initially was skeptical about losing the original glass tower, I now believe that the benefits to our community of relocating the market-rate housing offsite outweigh the intangible, yet perceived, loss of a new addition to Springfield’s skyline.
Now, a new challenge is presented by MGM’s proposal to reduce the size of the original project. I pledge that I will not agree to any changes that negatively affect MGM’s promises of employment opportunities and revenue. We again will utilize our consultants to assure that the city is protected as we review and negotiate over the latest proposed changes. MGM will pay for our review costs including our team of gaming law, design, and engineering experts that have been with us since the beginning of our casino selection process.
I have asked my internal team, together with our outside experts, to provide me and the City Council with the analyses that we need to make decisions in the best interest of the city. I am confident that our rigorous review process will result in the city realizing the vision it had when it selected MGM: developing a first-class resort casino project benefitting the city, region and Commonwealth. I will settle for nothing less.
Domenic Sarno is mayor of Springfield