Opinion

How About a Union Station Casino?

By GERRY FITZGERALD
Now that it’s certain that casinos are coming to Massachusetts, it may be time to start considering seriously where a Western Mass. casino should be sited. In spite of the constant PR drumbeat coming out of Palmer over the past year, the siting of a local casino is an important issue and should not be decided by the noise level generated by developers with an entirely vested interest in the decision.
The Western Mass. location where a casino would bring the greatest benefit to the area as a whole, and to a host community with the greatest needs and the greatest payback, is readily apparent. And it certainly isn’t Palmer. Granted, Palmer is a nice little town with the same problems of many other little towns in Western Mass., but simply having a large tract of open land somewhere near a turnpike exit doesn’t make it the optimum site for a casino.
Springfield is the economic engine that powers Western Mass. A financially healthy Springfield of rising property values, a vibrant school system, rising employment opportunities for its growing minority population, and a revitalized downtown benefits all of Western Mass. These are benefits that a well-conceived, well-managed, visionary casino relationship could bring to Springfield.
With an agreement that the casino gives job preference and training opportunities to Springfield residents first, the people and neighborhoods most in need of an economic hand up — not a handout — will receive it, with dignity and a sense of pride, and just as importantly, they get the opportunity to work in their own community, with the ability to get to work every day by public transportation.
A revitalized, vibrant downtown community can also come with the new casino development. This is the hard part. Locating an $800 million casino in downtown Springfield requires vision and fortitude. But it should be the easiest part, because the key component that satisfies all the requirements of an optimum Western Mass. casino site has been sitting vacant for more than 40 years, waiting for an opportunity big enough to match its economic potential — Union Station.
A huge parcel of prime downtown real estate, Union Station sits unused and undeveloped — but not for lack of trying. Countless commissions have taken a crack at designing a future for Union Station, with a new proposal coming along every few years, complete with the same artist renderings and vague notions of intermodal transportation and retail and commercial office ventures. Mercifully, the latest plan at least spared us the farmers’-market component of previous proposals. But the fact is that nothing will ever go on that site that will generate 2,000 construction jobs, 3,000 permanent jobs, and a multi-million-dollar annual contribution to the city’s treasury, and bring an average of 10,000 visitors per day to downtown Springfield. A casino would.
It is also a unique and exciting opportunity for a casino operator. Come to Springfield and build an $800 million, 40-story, luxury resort hotel and casino, and we’ll give you the site at Union Station, and you’ll also have an Amtrak station in your hotel lobby, with ‘casino trains’ running on the hour from New York City, bringing in gamblers from New York, Bridgeport, New Haven, and Hartford.
A Union Station casino (it even comes with a perfect brand name) wouldn’t be the demise of Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun, but it would most certainly take a very serious gouge out of Fox-Mo’s significant I-91, Southern Conn./ New York business, turn their Albany traffic to a trickle, and keep at home the important Western Mass business. From New York, Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford, Albany, and points beyond, Springfield is far easier and faster to get to by car, train, or airplane, and has much more to offer gamblers beyond the tables and slots than does a clearing in the woods. A world-class, major resort casino in downtown Springfield is an absolute nightmare for Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.
A Union Station casino brings people and business to downtown Springfield and the surrounding area. It brings convention business to the Mass Mutual Center (instead of losing it a to Palmer facility), brings visitors to the Basketball Hall of Fame and its restaurants, and attracts people to the museums, Symphony Hall, CityStage, Six Flags, the Big E, and area restaurants, hotels, and stores. And most of all, it puts Springfield’s citizens to work, in their own community, at a location at the heart of the public-transportation system. An opportunity like this will never again be available to Springfield.

Gerry FitzGerald is president of FitzGerald & Mastroianni Advertising Inc. in Springfield.

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