Springfield Makes Smart Choice with MGM

EditorialBWlogoEndeavors to place a casino in downtown Springfield have a long way to go — the process is really only in stage one — but the city is off to what would have to be considered a very solid start.
Indeed, it chose the right development to take to the next stage — MGM’s proposal for the South End — and it negotiated smartly, securing a host-community agreement that benefits the city and region in a number of ways, but without putting too great a financial burden on the company.
That agreement includes everything from annual payments to the city totaling $25 million to improvements for Riverfront Park; from support for local entertainment venues, including the MassMutual Center, Symphony Hall, and CityStage, to so-called community-impact payments that have the potential to greatly improve overall public safety downtown. There’s even a provision for MGM to finance construction of a pavilion at Franconia Golf Course, one that will, in theory, enable the course to host more events and the city to net more revenue.
The challenge now is to continue working with MGM to shape a project that will not only win the favor of voters in the city and then the Gaming Commission — although both of those are critical — but also succeed in the broad and complex goal of transforming the South End neighborhood.
And it is that piece that ultimately makes this project the far better option for Springfield than Penn National’s proposal to build in the city’s North End.
That plan, which did have some merit, would have relocated two large businesses — Peter Pan and the Republican —  thus creating what the developers called a ripple effect that would boost downtown (the Republican would have relocated there), Union Station (Peter Pan would have moved there), and an East Springfield industrial park (the newspaper’s printing operations would have gone there).
But those developments cannot be considered game-changing in stature. Those involving the city’s South End neighborhood are definitely worthy of that descriptive phrase, although it must be said that the game can be changed in many ways, and the jury is still very much out on whether a casino can positively transform a severely challenged urban area.
For now, though, this is clearly the right pick for Springfield.
The MGM plan could take a neighborhood that has, for the most part, been down and virtually out since the construction of I-91 fractured it, and give it the catalyst for progress that has been missing for four decades.
The MGM proposal, focused more on entertainment than it is on pure gaming, would bring people to the South End who would ordinarily avoid that part of town. And while doing so, it brings the promise of deeper change — new businesses, market-rate housing, momentum, and a real sense of hope.
When BusinessWest traveled with the City 2 City contingent to Bethlehem, Pa. last November, we heard from officials there who were determined not to simply put a casino within the city where it made sense from a traffic and parking perspective — although those matters figured into the equation. Instead, they focused on locating the casino where it would make a real difference — in that case, the site of the former steel mill that once gave the city its identity but then sat lifeless for years.
Today, there is plenty of life on that site, from new arts venues to fledgling businesses to new work/live projects that are bringing young people to Bethlehem and hope for the future. And little, if any, of it would have happened without the casino.
Springfield needs — and deserves — a project that can do the same thing. The MGM proposal has the vast potential for being the catalyst this city desires, and we’re encouraged by the fact that it is the last Springfield proposal standing.
As we said, there is a long way to go in this process, but the city is, to borrow a phrase from the industry, riding the right horse.
Now it has to get it to the finish line.

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