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Cover Story

MGM Looks to Step Things Up in Year Two

It’s been nearly a full year since MGM Springfield opened its doors in Springfield’s South End. It’s been a year of learning — for both the casino’s team and the consuming public as well. As the headlines have announced, the casino has fallen well behind projections for gross gaming revenues (GGR), but in most all of the other ways to measure the success of the operation, it has not underperformed.

Mike Mathis started by stating what has become obvious — and also addressing the topic on the minds of most everyone in this region when it comes to MGM Springfield.

Gross gaming revenues (or GGR, an acronym that is increasingly becoming part of the local lexicon) are not what they were projected to be for the first year of operation, which will end August 23.

Those projections, made several years ago during the licensing process for the $960 million facility in Springfield’s South End, were for roughly $400 million this first year. Instead, the resort casino is on pace to record closer to $275 million, as the chart on page 8, which includes numbers through the end of July, makes clear.

“In the context of a three-year ramp, which is how we view it, we’re off to a slower ramp-up than we’d like,” Mathis, president and COO at MGM Springfield, admitted. “The gaming revenues are less than we hoped for, and the work is understanding where we are performing well and where we are underperforming.”

With that, Mathis hit upon ongoing work that began literally within days of the casino’s opening. And it continues in earnest today, with the expectation that those numbers can and will improve in year two.

Repeating what he said at the six-month mark for MGM Springfield, Mathis noted that new casinos generally go through a lengthy ramp-up period (three years is the timeframe he repeatedly mentioned) before fully hitting their stride. And that this ramping process involves some learning curves, especially when gaming is being introduced to a region, as is the case in Massachusetts.

And much was learned, said Mathis, referencing everything from Super Bowl watching habits — it became clear that most people would rather watch at home than go to the casino, although Mathis still hopes to change that — to the bands that people will come out to watch (it appears locals really like local groups rather than imports), to the casino games people like to play.

A promotion to give away a Mercedes Benz each week for a month is one of many strategic initiatives to drive visitation to MGM Springfield.

Looking ahead to year two, which will kick-off with four performances by Aerosmith and a host of other birthday-celebration events, Mathis said MGM Springfield will enter it with considerable acquired knowledge, as well as what appears to be some momentum.

Indeed, while June’s GGR numbers were the worst for any full month since the facility opened — Encore Boston opened that same month and probably had something to do with that performance — July’s numbers were better, said Mathis, and slots GGR has been generally higher over the past several months.

“There are many examples of facilities that have taken their first year to figure out what the customer is going to react to, what the competition is doing, and achieve real growth,” he said, adding that he firmly believes MGM Springfield will join that list.

He’s pinning those hopes on everything from changes and additions to the casino floor (more on those later) to the possible introduction of sports betting within the Commonwealth, an addition to the gaming landscape now being considered by the Legislature, to the ‘growing-the-pie’ impact of Encore Boston’s opening earlier this summer.

But while the focus has been on GGR, as it should be, said Mathis, there are many other means by which to measure success during MGM’s first year. And with most all of these, the casino has been on target.

These include overall visitation (more than 6 million by the end of the first year); non-gaming revenues (the restaurants and hotel, for example); impact locally in terms of providing a boost to other businesses, especially those in the broad realm of tourism and hospitality; bringing people to the region; boosting the business of meetings and conventions; and employment, especially with regard to hiring Springfield residents and promoting people through the ranks.

“We’re very excited about all the visitors and tourists and eyeballs we’ve brought to the downtown — I know I’ve met many customers who have said ‘this is my first time in Springfield,’ or that they’ve brought their families from other areas to the downtown to show it off,” Mathis told BusinessWest. “One of the emotions I have is a huge sense of pride in what we’ve done here; we’ve given the people of Springfield and Western Mass. a headquarters tourist destination that they can show off to friends and family.”

Rick Sullivan, president of the Western Mass. Economic Development Council, agreed. Using yardsticks as unscientific, but still effective, in his view, as waiting times for a table at restaurants in the downtown area, he said the Casino has brought more vibrancy to the central business district. Also, it has deeply broadened the region’s tourism portfolio, prompting not only greater visitation, but longer stays.

Mike Mathis says year one has been a learning experience on many levels for all those on the MGM team.

“The biggest impact MGM has had in the year it’s been open, and the biggest impact it will have going forward, is that you now have gaming and increasing entertainment opportunities to marry to the other tourist attractions that we can be more than just a one-day travel destination,” he said.

Raising the Stakes

Mathis calls it ‘keeping the floor fresh.’

That’s an industry phrase — one of many that are new to people in this region — and one that refers to the need to constantly change, or freshen, the casino floor to bring both more new business and more repeat customers, said Mathis.

“You can’t get complacent about continuing to earn customers’ loyalty in a highly competitive market,” he noted, adding that efforts to freshen the floor at MGM Springfield include the construction of a new bar just inside the Main Street entrance to the casino — what Mathis calls the ‘back corner,’ because most people enter from the parking garage side — as well as some new electronic table games, some ‘stadium gaming,’ described as a mix of table games and slot machines, and special promotions.

“There’s a whole new zone in that corner, where we’re trying to bring some energy to what would otherwise be the back of the building,” he explained. “We’re trying to drive more business to the back; it’s a heavy investment but part of our work to improve the product.”

These steps are part of the ongoing efforts to improve GGR, said Mathis, but also part of what would be considered normal ramp-up of a casino facility as it adjusts to customers’ wants and needs, and the ebb and flow of the competitive landscape.

“I’ve said this in the past, and our competitors have the same view, which is that you need three years to get to a normalized operation,” he said. “And we’re seeing that ourselves; there are holidays and certain events we think are going to be some of our busiest, and for whatever reason they’re quieter. And then we’ll have a random day in the middle of the week that exceeds a weekend day.

“It’s really about trying to understand the patterns and being nimble and reacting to the patterns,” he went on. “Obviously in a market like this, weather is a factor, and we’re learning what the impact of weather is — good and bad.”

Local sports teams are a factor as well, he said, adding that while they have huge followings, this support doesn’t necessarily extend to viewing at the casino, as was learned during the first Super Bowl of the casino era in Massachusetts.

“In this case, business was less than we would normally see in one of other operations — although it was still a really strong day,” he said, “I think there’s a tradition of going to a house party because of the success they’ve had; we’ve got to figure out how to make MGM Springfield the regional house party for the Super Bowl.

“We’ve got great relationships with all the franchises, and we have strategies on how to activate the space and make it fun and interesting, fun and familiar,” he went on. “It’s a fun challenge; it’s not what we expected, but it’s a good problem to have because there’s a huge opportunity there.”

This process of watching, listening, learning, and responding to trends that were not expected extends to every aspect of the operation, he said, including entertainment and that aforementioned affinity for local acts.

“There are some acts that we think that would traditionally do well as they route the country, that don’t perform as well here,” he explained, “And there were other acts where we were pleasantly surprised by the response; country is popular here, so we’re going to look at country a little more.

“Thematically, there are really great regional bands that have a following here that aren’t national and that we’ve had a lot of success with,” he went on, mentioning Trailer Trash, a ‘modern country band,’ as one example. “Anyone in a new market has to figure out what are those great local bands that drive big crowds, local crowds.”

GGReat Expectations

Of course, there are many other things to figure out as well, said Mathis, adding that the broad goal, obviously, is to bring more people to the casino and inspire them to do more (and spend more) while they’re there.

This explains the freshening of the floor, as well as the four Aerosmith shows (now nearly sold out) and a number of other initiatives designed to bring people to the casino — and bring them back repeatedly.

These are the simple forces that drive GGR, said Mathis, who returned to that ongoing work to identify areas where the casino is underperforming, and addressing them.

Overall, he said the broad assignment is to build loyalty, not merely a visit or two to the resort and its casino floor.

“Part of the first year is gaining new visitors and customers who are seeing it for the first time and building loyalty,” he explained. “And in this market, because of the existence of some pretty strong competitors, there’s already strong loyalty and traditions and gaming habits that, quite frankly, we have to disrupt, and that takes some time.”

Meanwhile, there are some lingering patterns when it comes to where customers are coming from — or not coming from — that still need to be addressed.

Indeed, while MGM Springfield is overperforming, in Mathis’s view, when it comes to drawing customers from along the I-91 corridor, “north-south,” as he put it, things are different when it comes to east-west flow.

“It’s been a challenge to get folks to go west within the Commonwealth and give the facility a chance,” said Mathis adding that bookings like Aerosmith are designed to address that specific problem, and he believes there have been some inroads.

As for those efforts to disrupt current gaming patterns and loyalty with other casinos, Mathis noted that there are several arrows in that quiver, including everything from some new games to be introduced in the coming weeks, to a new promotion that involves giving away a Mercedes each week for several weeks, to a recently concluded program called MGM Millions, a lottery-like game that enabled players to win a wide variety of prizes including bonuses and loyalty privileges.

“That was very successful,” said Mathis, “and what we learned is that people like the lottery, and they’d rather have a smaller chance of winning a larger giveaway than a higher chance at smaller gifts — and that’s part of the learning curve.”

It also includes the addition of Symphony Hall to MGM’s portfolio of performance venues (the casino recently assumed management of that facility), which enables the team to book acts such as Steve Martin & Martin Short, coming Sept. 12, Boyz II Men (Sept. 22), and Smokey Robinson (Oct. 18).

“It’s another great venue that fills a niche we didn’t have previously,” he said, noting the hall’s 2,500 seating capacity. “That’s something in the tool shed we didn’t have our first year, especially since we can program into it, so we’re excited.”

He’s excited also by the prospects of sports betting.

“We’ve seen in our other markets that it can provide as much as a 10% lift to the overall business, not just the sports-betting component,” he said. “People will tend to stay longer, they’ll eat in the restaurants, they’ll place a bet, and spend some time on the casino floor on the machines or on the tables. So it’s an important initiative for us, especially in a market like Springfield and New England where people are passionate about their sports; we think it’s a manner of when, not if, this will happen.”

And, moving forward, Mathis said that while Encore Boston might impact MGM negatively in some ways, overall it will grow the pie when it comes to gaming, as evidenced, he believes, by the Springfield casino’s improved numbers for July.

“That demonstrates what we’ve always said — that there’s an ability to grow this market; there’s different customers for different experiences,” he said. “I like to think that the people in Boston will grow the market.”

Beyond the Floor

While much of the focus has been on the casino floor and GGR, Mathis said there are many other facets to this business, and he’s pleased with, and somewhat surprised by, the performance of some of these operations.

“I’m pleasantly surprised by how well-received our non-gaming amenities have been,” Mathis told BusinessWest. “The hotel is far above our projected occupancy rates, and the rate we’ve been able to charge is above what we project as well.”

He said the hotel has been generating a wide mix of business, from casino guests, to families visiting the area, to convention and meeting groups.

“We’ve done entire hotel blocks for different corporate groups that have come in and let us host their annual meetings or their incentive meetings for top salespeople,” he noted. “On every given day there are different types of customers in the hotel. We’ve been really pleasantly surprised by the amount of cash business we’re driving, the occupancy; that’s translating into the restaurants, exceeding our expectations on the amount of business overall.”

So much so that the MGM team is looking at perhaps adding more offerings, on top of the Wahlburger’s restaurant due to open next spring according to the latest estimates (groundbreaking will be within the next few weeks).

Meanwhile, business at the casino’s many bars has also exceeded expectations.

“We’ve also been pleasantly surprised by the amount of night life and bar business we’ve been doing,” said Mathis. “New Englanders enjoy their local IPAs and enjoy our nightlife lounges, so we’ve built some extra bars, such as the plaza bar to support our outdoor entertainment, and it’s been very successful.”

While generally pleased with what’s been happening within the casino complex itself, Mathis said the first year has shown that MGM Springfield’s impact extends beyond those four walls — and also that block in the South End.

As an example he points to the Red Rose restaurant abutting the property. Already a mainstay and hugely popular eatery, the restaurant has clearly received a tremendous boost from the casino.

“I was talking to the owner, Tony Caputo, on a Friday night recently,” Mathis recalled. “And he talked about business being up considerably since our opening, and how it actually started before we opened, during the construction process.

“Anecdotally, I’ve heard that many of the restaurants are up 20%, based on the overflow visitation we’re bringing — there’s more people than we can lodge and more people than we can feed,” he went on. “That was part of the strategy intentionally, and it’s bearing out.”

Rick Sullivan agreed.

“There’s more activity downtown now, there’s more people walking around,” he told BusinessWest. “It’s not like you can’t get a seat at a lunch place, but it is busier and that’s good; I never mind waiting a little longer to get a table — that’s a good thing.”

An even better thing, he went on, is MGM’s apparent ability to ‘extend the stay,’ as those in the tourism business say. Elaborating, he said there is some anecdotal evidence building that the addition of the casino is prompting more people to look to the region as something more than a day trip.

“People are looking to match a day at the casino and the Seuss Museum, or the Basketball Hall of Fame, or Six Flags, or the Big E,” he said. “People will do the Big E for the day and the casino for a day; we’re starting to see that.”

Likewise, he and others are seeing people visiting the region for special events and happenings make a point of also visiting the casino and, therefore, downtown Springfield.

He said he witnessed this first-hand when it came to teams that came from out of town for a sled hockey tournament at Amelia Park ice rink in Westfield, and he expects the same for the Babe Ruth World Series, also to take place in that city.

“It’s a place to take people,” he said, adding that as more of this happens, the overall impact of the casino will only grow.

Toward Year Two

As he talked about what’s coming up for the casino’s first birthday party — Aerosmith, a huge cake, the Patriots cheerleaders, and more, Mathis flashed back 350 days or so to when he and Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno rode down Main Street in a Rolls Royce manufactured in Springfield during a parade that preceded the formal ribbon cutting.

The year that followed that triumphant moment has been one of intrigue and learning, for many constituencies, and one where expectations have mostly been met.

In year two, the focus will be on maintaining the current course, but also achieving progress with those expectations that haven’t been met. u

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Sports & Leisure

Star Power

They’re calling it a “pairing party.”

And, as that name suggests, this is a party at which the pairings for the MGM Springfield Basketball Hall of Fame Golf Classic Hosted by Ray Allen!, will be announced.

Most golf tournaments in this region, and there are a great many of them, don’t have a pairing party. This one does, and for a good reason — players are being paired with Hall of Famers and legends of the game. The list of those signed on to participate include players such as Allen, Dominique Wilkins, Gary Payton, Dave Cowens, Rick Barry, Bernard King, Muggsy Bogues, and Alex English. And there are others coming, such as ESPN personality Jackie MacMullan.

The opportunity to play with one of these stars is just one of the intriguing aspects of this tournament, which will benefit both the Hall of Fame and local schools, said Jason Fiddler, vice president of Sales & Marketing for the Hall.

Others include the fact that this is a two-day event, with day one being the pairings party at MGM Springfield, and the second day being all golf — at the Ranch in Southwick, one of the region’s premier courses, and also the fact that, the higher the participation level, the more a group gets to choose the star they’ll play golf with.

The tournament, slated for July 25 and 26, is actually a rebirth of a fundraising tournament staged by the Hall of Fame roughly a decade ago, one that was staged in conjunction with enshrinement weekend in September, said Fiddler, adding that it is now one of three golf events the shrine conducts over the course of a year. The others are in Los Angeles in the fall, and in Phoenix in the spring.

“We wanted to bring a premier event back to Springfield — that was one of our primary missions,” he said, noting that Springfield is the birthplace of the sport and home to its Hall of Fame. “We wanted to do something that would bring our Hall of Fame talent back to Springfield on a regular basis.

“We had long conversations with various Hall of Famers to see who we could get engaged,” he went on, “and then had various conversations with local and regional parties to get a title partner involved in the event, and both kind of came together on the same day.”

Elaborating, he said MGM showed great interest in putting its name on the event, and Ray Allen, the former UConn great and key player in the Boston Celtics 2008 championship run, communicated the same level of interest in doing the same — hence the first annual MGM Springfield Basketball Hall of Fame Golf Classic Hosted by Ray Allen!, complete with exclamation point.

In addition to raising funds for the Hall of Fame, proceeds will, through Ray Allen Charities, be channeled to a Springfield-based school to be determined later.

“We’re trying to raise enough funds to revamp a computer room or robotics program here in the city,” said Fiddler, adding that $40,000 has been earmarked for such a project. “Everyone’s working behind the scenes to select an appropriate school.”

This latest addition to the Hall of Fame golf portfolio will be like the others in that it will enable participating golfers to play with a legend, said Fiddler, adding that there has been a good deal of positive response to the tournament, although there are still a few foursomes to be filled.

Foursomes cost $2,500, and, as noted, there are higher participations levels and other ways to support the endeavor. Sponsorships opportunities are also available. For more information, visit www.hoophall.com/events/mgm-springfield-hall-of-fame-golf-classic/schedule-of-events.

—George O’Brien

Opinion

Editorial

We’ll probably never know how far the talks went between Wynn Resorts and MGM Resorts concerning the acquisition of the $2 billion casino in Everett supposedly ready to open any time now.

We’ll just say that we’re glad — and the state should be glad, and the city of Springfield should be glad, and Everett should be glad — that those talks are over, and that MGM will stand pat (yes, that’s an industry term) and not pursue that property.

Had those talks continued and a sale been forged … well, let’s just say we don’t want to go there. And, again, we’re glad the state doesn’t have to. The status quo is working quite well in Springfield, thank you, and if there’s one thing the state and its Gaming Commission don’t need to bring to the picture right now, is question marks — or more question marks, to be more precise.

In case you missed it — and it was hard to miss — word leaked that Wynn Resorts, which is now licensed to operate a casino in Everett under the Encore brand, was in what were called “very preliminary discussions” about a sale of that property to MGM.

Media outlets across the Commonwealth then printed stories laden with conjecture about whether the sale should take place and what might happen if it did. Most of those quoted blasted the concept and projected that it would create something approaching chaos at a time when the state needed just the opposite from its still-fledgling casino industry.

“This isn’t a Monopoly game,” former state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, a key author of the state’s gaming law, told the Boston Globe as news of the talks broke, adding that a sale of the Boston property, which would force MGM to divest itself of the Springfield facility, was far from a slam dunk. Carlo DeMaria, mayor of Everett, went further, saying, “it’s not going to happen.”

Turns out he was right, because amid that wave of negative commentary and gloom-and-doom conjecture, MGM announced that it was playing the hand it was dealt.

Whether that’s the best move for company, we can’t say. But we can say it’s the best move for the state and this region.

MGM is a known commodity, but whichever entity would buy the Springfield casino is not, and while there are plenty of good casino operators out there, we don’t need an unknown commodity at this point.

Especially in Greater Springfield. Communities, businesses, nonprofits, and other constituencies have forged solid working relationships and partnerships with MGM. They haven’t forged them with a casino on Main Street, but instead with a company, one that has come to be a trusted stakeholder in this region.

So we’re glad MGM is not seeking potentially greener pastures in Boston.

But while this threat has passed, we have to wonder about how it materialized in the first place. The fact that Wynn Resorts fought a long, hard, very expensive battle to open a casino in Everett and then explored a sale just as it was set to cross the finish line is a head scratcher, to be sure.

But there is a lot we don’t know about this industry, and maybe a sale makes sense on some levels, especially if Wynn, which desperately wanted into the Massachusetts market, is now intent on getting out.

Just not a sale to MGM.

Now that MGM has backed away, it’s time for the Gaming Commission to determine whether Wynn is still the best fit for the Boston market, and if it isn’t, the state should find another player.

It’s also time to move forward with the next big order of business — sports gambling. As it did with gaming itself, the state is dragging its feet on sports gambling, losing revenue to neighboring Rhode Island with each day that passes.

Thankfully, the state, and Springfield, won’t have to deal with a change of ownership at the casino in Springfield’s South End.

Cover Story

Forward Progress

 

Forward Progress

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Right Place, Right Time

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Economic Outlook

Right Place, Right Time

John Doleva shows off the Basketball Hall of Fame’s renovated theater, one of many improvements at the hall.

John Doleva shows off the Basketball Hall of Fame’s renovated theater, one of many improvements at the hall.

They call it the ‘need period.’

There are probably other names for it, but that’s how those at the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau (GSCVB) refer to the post-holiday winter stretch in this region.

And that phrase pretty much sums it up. Area tourist attractions and hospitality-related businesses are indeed needy at that time — far more than at any other season in this region. Traditionally, it’s a time to hold on and, if you’re a ski-related business, hope for snow or enough cold weather to make some.

But as the calendar prepares to change over to 2019 — and, yes, the needy season for many tourism-related businesses in the 413 — there is hope and optimism, at least much more than is the norm.

This needy season, MGM Springfield will be open, and five months into its work to refine and continuously improve its mix of products and services. And there will also be the American Hockey League (AHL) All-Star Game, coming to Springfield for the first time in a long time on Jan. 28 (actually, there is a whole weekend’s worth of activities). There will be a revamped Basketball Hall of Fame, a few new hotels, and some targeted marketing on the part of the GSCVB to let everyone know about everything going on in this area.

“The last half of 2018 has been great, and we’re very optimistic — our outlook for tourism is really positive for 2019. Certainly, MGM is a factor — it’s a huge factor, it’s a game changer — but it’s just part of the story.”

So maybe the need period won’t be quite as needy as it has been.

And if the outlook for the traditionally slow winter months is brighter, the same — and more — can be said for the year ahead, said Mary Kay Wydra, president of the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau, noting that expectations, based in large part on the last few quarters of 2018 and especially the results after MGM opened on Aug. 24, are quite high for the year ahead.

“The last half of 2018 has been great, and we’re very optimistic — our outlook for tourism is really positive for 2019,” she told BusinessWest. “Certainly, MGM is a factor — it’s a huge factor, it’s a game changer — but it’s just part of the story.”

Elaborating, she said MGM is helping to spur new development in this sector — one new hotel, a Holiday Inn Express, opened in downtown Springfield in 2018, and another, a Courtyard by Marriott, is set to open on Riverdale Street in West Springfield — while also filling more existing rooms and driving rates higher.

Indeed, occupancy rates in area hotels rose to 68.5% in October (the latest data available), up nearly 2% from that same month in 2017, and in August, they were up 5% (to 72.6%) over the year prior.

Meanwhile, room revenue was up 4.6% in October, from $113 a night on average in this region to $119 a night, and in August, it went up 7.2%.

And, as noted, MGM is just one of the reasons for optimism and a bright outlook in this sector, Wydra said. Others include the renovated hoop hall, yearly new additions at Six Flags, and the awesome drawing power of the Dr. Seuss museum on the Quadrangle.

An architect’s rendering of the renovated third-floor mezzanine at the Basketball Hall of Fame, which includes the tributes to the inductees.

An architect’s rendering of the renovated third-floor mezzanine at the Basketball Hall of Fame, which includes the tributes to the inductees.

For 2019, the outlook is for the needle to keep moving in the right direction, she said, noting that some new meetings and conventions have been booked (more on that later); Eastec, the massive manufacturing trade show, will be making its biennial pilgrimage to this region (specifically the Big E); the Babe Ruth World Series will again return to Westfield; and the AHL All-Star weekend will get things off to a solid start.

John Doleva, president of the Basketball Hall of Fame and a member of the executive board of the GSCVB, agreed.

“With MGM now in the marketplace and being active, there does appear to be a lift, much more of an excited spirit by those that are in the business,” he noted. “Everybody is saying that, at some level, their business is up, their interest in visitation is up — there is a general feeling of optimism.”

Getting a Bounce

Doleva told BusinessWest that MGM opened its doors toward the tail end of peak season for the hoop hall — the summer vacation months. Therefore, it’s too early to quantify the impact of the casino on attendance there.

But the expectations for the next peak season are quite high, he went on, adding that many MGM customers return several times, and the hope — and expectation — is that, on one or several of those return trips, guests will extend their visit far beyond the casino’s grounds.

“Once people return a few times, they’re going to be looking for other things to do,” he said. “I definitely feel a sense of excitement and anticipation, and I’m definitely looking forward to next summer when it’s the high-travel season, and really get a gauge for what the potential MGM crossover customer is.

“Conversely, there are probably individuals that would probably have the Hall of Fame on their list of things to do,” he went on, “and now that there’s more of a critical mass, with MGM right across the street, I think we rise up on their to-do list.”

But MGM’s arrival is only one reason for soaring expectations at the hall, said Doleva, adding that the facility is in the middle of an ambitious renovation project that is already yielding dividends.

Indeed, phase one of the project included an extensive makeover of the lobby area and the hall’s theater, and those steps have helped inspire a significant increase in bookings for meetings and events.

Mary Kay Wydra says 2019 is shaping up as a very solid year for the region’s tourism industry.

Mary Kay Wydra says 2019 is shaping up as a very solid year for the region’s tourism industry.

“Our renovations have led to a great number of facility rentals for events that are happening in our theater, our new lobby, and Center Court,” he said, adding that the hall was averaging 175 rentals a year, and will log close to 240 for 2018. “Before, the theater wasn’t a hidden gem, it was just hidden; it was like a junior-high-school auditorium — it was dark, it was gray, it had no life. Now, it’s a great place to have a meeting or presentation like a product launch.”

Phase 2 of the project, which includes a renovation of the third-floor mezzanine, where the Hall of Fame plaques are, and considerable work on the roof of the sphere, will commence “any minute now,” said Doleva, adding that the work should improve visitation numbers, but, even more importantly, revenue and profitability.

The improved numbers for the hall — and the optimism there concerning the year ahead — are a microcosm of the broader tourism sector, said Wydra, adding that a number of collaborating factors point toward what could be a special year — and a solid long-term outlook.

It starts with the All-Star Game. The game itself is on a Monday night, but there is a whole weekend’s worth of activities planned, including the ‘classic skills competition’ the night before.

“Even with the average daily rate going up and occupancy growing, we still have that need period — which is true for all of Massachusetts,” she noted. “When you have an event like the All-Star Game in January, that really helps the hotels and restaurants.”

Additional momentum is expected in May with the arrival of EASTEC, considered to be New England’s premier manufacturing exposition. The three-day event drew more than 13,000 attendees last year, many of whom patronized area restaurants and clubs, said Wydra, adding that MGM Springfield only adds to the list of entertainment and hospitality options for attendees.

The Babe Ruth World Series is another solid addition to the year’s lineup, she noted, adding that the teams coming into the area, and their parents, frequent a number of area attractions catering to families.

Analysts say MGM Springfield has a far-reaching impact on the region’s tourism sector, including higher occupancy rates at area hotels and higher room rates.

Analysts say MGM Springfield has a far-reaching impact on the region’s tourism sector, including higher occupancy rates at area hotels and higher room rates.

Meanwhile, the region continues to attract a diverse portfolio of meetings and conventions, said Alicia Szenda, director of sales for the GSCVB, adding that MGM Springfield provides another attractive selling point for the 413, which can already boast a host of amenities, accessibility, and affordable hotel rates.

In June, the National Assoc. of Watch and Clock Collectors will stage its 75th annual national convention at the Big E, she said, an event that is expected to bring 2,000 people to the region. And later in the summer, the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts will bring more than 900 people to downtown Springfield.

Those attending these conventions and the many others slated during the year now have a growing list of things to do in this region, said Wydra, who mentioned MGM, obviously, but also the revamped Hall of Fame; Six Flags, which continues to add new attractions yearly (a Cyborg ride is on tap for 2019); and the Dr. Seuss museum, which is drawing people from across the country and around the world.

“The Seuss factor is huge,” said Wydra. “It’s a big reason why visitation is up in this region. Seuss is a recognizable brand, and the museum delivers on the brand, and they keep reinventing that product.”

Staying Power

This ‘Seuss factor’ is just one of a number of powerful forces coming together to bring the outlook for tourism in this region to perhaps the highest plane it’s seen.

Pieces of the puzzle continue to fall into place, and together, they point to Western Mass. becoming a true destination.

As noted, even the ‘need period’ is looking less needy. The rest of the year? The sky’s the limit.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Opinion

Editorial

Looking back, 2018 was, overall, a year of progress and accumulated momentum for the Greater Springfield region. As the calendar turns, we have a short wish list for 2019:

• Continued success for MGM Springfield. Not everyone is a big fan of gambling, but everyone should want this facility to not only succeed, but continue to grow and expand its influence. Most all of the things we wanted to happen with this casino — thousands of jobs, more vibrancy downtown, a boost to the convention and meetings market, and people loading ‘Main Street, Springfield, Mass.’ into the car’s GPS — have happened, and things we didn’t want to happen — traffic jams, turmoil in the labor market, and damage to other businesses — really haven’t happened. Let’s hope this pattern continues into the new year and beyond.

• More progress with helping the unemployed and underemployed get into the game. In most all respects, the economy is solid, and individual sectors are doing well. Employers are still struggling to find good help. But the regional unemployment rate remains higher than the national average, and many are still on the sidelines when it comes to the job market because they lack the needed hard and soft skills. Several area agencies and institutions, especially the community colleges, are aggressively attacking the problem, and it is our wish that these efforts generate some real results in the year to come, because, in many sectors, the only thing holding them back is securing enough talent to get the work done.

• More work to aggressively market this region and the many good things happening here. Yes, we know that Greater Springfield has come a long way since the dark days when a receiver controlled the City of Homes and its downtown was essentially dead as a doornail. But the rest of the region and the country don’t. We could wait for the New York Times and the Boston Globe to tel the story (they might get around to it someday), but we should probably tell it ourselves through targeted marketing, as other cities (New York) and states (Michigan) have done. We don’t need a catchy phrase, but we do need to get the word out. The Economic Development Council has recognized this as a priority and we hope to see some progress made in 2019.

• Continued efforts to inspire and mentor entrepreneurs. We’ve said this many times before, but need to keep emphasizing the point. The most logical way to create jobs and revitalize individual cities and their downtowns is not by luring large companies, but by building from within, by promoting entrepreneurship and then mentoring those who go into business for themselves. Yes, it takes longer, and for every Google — and we’re probably not going to get a Google — there are hundreds of ventures that fail to take flight. But we have to keep trying to build from within. We’ve made great progress in this realm through the efforts of Valley Venture Mentors and many others, and we have to continue building on the foundation that we’ve laid.

MGM Springfield

For Starters…

Alex Dixon, seen here at MGM Springfield’s South End Market

Alex Dixon, seen here at MGM Springfield’s South End Market, says ‘normal’ isn’t something to expect at the facility for some time.

The long-awaited opening of MGM is now being talked about in the past tense. It was, as most everyone predicted it would be, a momentous event in the city’s history. But thanks to some careful planning, it was not the disruptive force that some were anticipating.

Alex Dixon came away with a few observations — and a few questions — after MGM Springfield’s first weekend of operation late last month.

In that latter category … well, he was wondering out loud if that fruity libation ‘Sex on the Beach’ is the official drink of Greater Springfield. It must be, he concluded, because the bars on the premises ran out of some or all of the ingredients needed to make it — vodka, peach schnapps, orange juice, and cranberry juice — so some people had to drink something else. And usually did.

But for a while, it was also a challenge to get something involving Coca Cola. “We ran out at one point,” said Dixon, general manager of the facility. “We managed to get some more, but we were out for a while.”

“We ran through so many different scenarios, and none of them came to be; we’re as excited for what happened as we are for what didn’t happen.”

As for observations … he said the company may have to take some steps to help some employees with their feet.

“We’re looking right now into getting some foot care for a lot of our employees,” he said several days after the opening. “People were on their feet more in the past 72 hours than they’ve been in a long time. So we’re looking to store some Epsom salts or some foot care, because people need to take care of their feet.”

OK, those were observations more of the tongue-in-cheek variety. Getting more serious — although he was quite serious about those foot problems — he said the long-awaited opening for MGM, meaning not just not opening day but those first several days, were noteworthy not just for what happened — huge crowds and general excitement for the region’s new, $960 million toy — but also for what didn’t happen.

And with that, Dixon summoned the contrived phrase ‘carmageddon.’ That’s not in the dictionary, but if it were, ‘gridlock’ would be listed as a synonym. Some people were predicting something approaching that, meaning Big E-like traffic jams and parking issues, during the first few days. Anxiety was such that some downtown Springfield-based businesses actually closed their doors or altered their schedules in the wake of some predictions. There were electronic signs on I-91 alerting motorists that MGM was opening on Aug. 24, and therefore they should expect delays.

But, for the most part, none of that happened, and what looked to the untrained eye to be a somewhat slow start for the casino was actually the fruits of some careful planning, said Dixon.

Elaborating, he said MGM officials made arrangements with the Big E for casino patrons to park there for free and be shuttled over. And then, in the countless media interviews that took place leading up to and just after the opening, those same officials kept urging people to park across the river to take advantage of that option.

Long story short, they did, and with positive results for area commuters and businesses downtown and elsewhere.

As for hard numbers on MGM’s opening day and first weekend, Dixon didn’t have any at press time. So he qualified things as best he could.

“It was phenomenal,” he said of the opening and the weekend that followed. “And the big jubilation is that we did it — and by ‘we,’ I mean literally the entire community, meaning the city, the Commonwealth, and all the different agencies we’ve been working with to coordinate things. We ran through so many different scenarios, and none of them came to be; we’re as excited for what happened as we are for what didn’t happen.

“We need to get people rested up because this is a marathon, although we had a sprint initially. People need their rest.”

“We did very well in terms of volume — we’re still tabulating the numbers,” he went on. “But we didn’t have the side effects that can potentially come with too many cars, too many pedestrians, and too many issues.”

Looking ahead, and, more specifically, addressing the question of when something approaching normalcy might descend on MGM Springfield, Dixon said it will be a while before that happens.

Indeed, while the week days after the opening were far less hectic, the Labor Day weekend (with Stevie Wonder appearing at the MassMutual Center on Sept. 1) was fast approaching, with Enshrinement weekend for the Basketball Hall of Fame coming the following week, and the Big E to open on Sept. 14.

“I don’t think we’ll see ‘normal’ for some time yet,” said Dixon with a huge smile on his face, implying that not normal is good, as in really good.

For this issue, BusinessWest talked with Dixon about MGM’s long-awaited opening and got a behind-the-scenes look (sort of, but not really) at what was happening, and, as he noted, not happening.

General Manager Alex Dixon didn’t have specific numbers

General Manager Alex Dixon didn’t have specific numbers, but he said volume at MGM Springfield those first few days met or exceeded expectations. Getty Images

Crowd Control

In the days leading up to the opening, there were many MGM employees working long days and often long nights as well, said Dixon, who put himself in that category.

So one of the many items on his to-do list as general manager in the days immediately following the opening was to make sure that those who needed to caught up on their rest.

“That Sunday was focused on really looking at people’s days off, to make sure that, if they couldn’t take a full day, they could at least take some hours off,” he explained. “We need to get people rested up because this is a marathon, although we had a sprint initially. People need their rest.”

After that first weekend, most certainly needed some rest, he went on, adding that the facility was at or near full capacity for many stretches, especially Friday and Saturday nights.

For the most part, the hundreds of employees, many wearing their uniforms for the first time, came through it well, despite what were for some 16-, 18-, even 20-hour days for those at the top levels.

As the bartenders, waiters, and waitresses serving up Sex on the Beach drinks — or not, as the case may be — they had some very long nights, but few seemed to be complaining, said Dixon.

“I heard anecdotally that someone said they made more in three hours than she did in three weeks at her last job,” he said. “That’s not only heartwarming, but it gives an indication of the sheer volume we encountered, and our restaurants were far busier than any of us could have imagined.”

Flashing back to opening day, he said that he and his team handled the different waves of visitors smoothly, but made some adjustments on the fly. The first wave comprised of the thousands who assembled on Main Street in advance of the 11 a.m. opening — some were on the street before 6, said Dixon, adding that the first order of business that day (literally and figuratively) was to get those people into the building safely and in an orderly fashion in order to reopen Main Street to traffic.

The first order of business for those at MGM Springfield

The first order of business for those at MGM Springfield was to get the throngs on Main Street who gathered on the morning of opening day into the facility safely and in an orderly fashion.

That all happened according to plan, he went on, adding that the next wave was a mixed group that included large numbers of workers spilling out of the downtown office buildings and walking the few blocks to the casino. Another wave came through that night, again filling the casino to something approaching full capacity.

As for the adjustments, or tweaks, as Dixon called them, they included everything from reconfiguring the ling lines for people looking to sign up for the M Life Rewards program to devising ways to handle all the traffic at the brick-oven pizzeria at the Cal-Mare restaurant.

“The pizza counter was wildly successful, and we needed more space, we needed another point of sale to handle everyone,” he noted. “That brick-oven pizza was just a hit, so we made some adjustments.”

Getting back to that phrase ‘carmageddon,’ Dixon said it didn’t happen on opening weekend, and that shows, by and large, that it’s not likely to happen on a large scale.

When asked if that was a good thing, he said it was — for MGM, the region, and its business community.

“Through this big peak, we’ve shown that there’s not an over-arching impact to the business community in a negative way, such as slowing down commerce to the rest of the city,” he told BusinessWest. “We’re just really proud of the planning we did in advance, with the city, West Springfield, and the Big E; that investment in the shuttles really paid off.”

And the investment grew in size, because the shuttle service, originally to be offered only on opening day (Friday), was extended through the weekend in yet another attempt to control the impact of the casino’s opening on the region and its businesses.

Drinking it In

When pressed, Dixon said he doesn’t know what goes into a Sex on the Beach drink and wouldn’t know how to make one.

“But apparently half of Springfield does, because that’s must have been the most popular drink,” he said with a laugh, adding that besides stocking on up on peach schnapps and whatever else might be needed, he and his team will continue to make tweaks and adjust as necessary, because ‘normal,’ as he noted, isn’t something likely to be seen at MGM for a while.

And as he also noted, this is a marathon, even though it started with a sprint.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Opinion

Editorial

With MGM Springfield dominating the 24-hour news cycle like nothing that came before it in local business history, it’s sometimes easy to momentarily forget about all the other positive, even transformational things going on within the local economy.

We said ‘momentarily,’ because this issue should help readers put the new casino aside for just a moment and appreciate, again, the depth and diversity of the region’s economy and all it takes to make this region as special as it is.

Specifically, we’re talking about the Healthcare Heroes for 2018. And there’s plenty to talk about.

Healthcare Heroes is a recognition program created by BusinessWest and its sister publication, the Healthcare News, and launched last year to shine a bright spotlight on a sector that is sometimes overlooked. Indeed, BusinessWest has other recognition programs — Forty Under 40 and Difference Makers — but, historically, those working within the broad realm of health and wellness have not been well-represented by those programs, making it clear that something distinct for that sector was needed.

One of the goals with Healthcare Heroes was to create a vehicle for relaying some of the many amazing stories taking place within this industry, stories that convey energy, compassion, innovation, forward thinking, and, above all, passion — for finding ways to improve quality of life for those that these people and agencies touch every day.

It was that way in 2017 with the inaugural class of Heroes, and it’s the same this year with the winners of seven carefully crafted categories. The stories are many things, but most of all, they’re inspiring, which was yet another goal of this program. Each story is different, but the common denominator is the passion brought to what they do.

That’s what Mary Paquette brings to her role as director of Health Services at American International College. She has completely transformed that service, once one of the lowest-rated in surveys of students, into one of the highest.

It’s also what Celeste Surreira, winner in the ‘administration’ category, brings to the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke every day. She’s spent most of her long career in healthcare working the emergency room, but made this dramatic career shift because it represented a chance to be on the front lines dealing with the larger issues emerging in healthcare today.

And it’s what Dr. Matthew Sadof has brought to his pediatric practice for decades now. A passionate advocate for the underserved and the marginalized, he has dedicated his career to healing patients and — through his work with the Community Asthma Coalition and other initiatives — making the Springfield community a better, healthier one.

Peter DePergola II is the Hero in the Emerging Leader category, and fittingly so. He has emerged as not only a leader but a true pioneer in the field of bioethics. There are many facets to his work, especially those incredibly hard talks he must have with patients, families, and healthcare providers about end-of-life issues.

Speaking of pioneers, that term also applies to Robert Fazzi. He likes to say he’s spent his entire career — nearly a half-century of work — in the ‘helping professions,’ culminating in his work with company, which, for 40 years, has been on the cutting edge of developments in the home-care and hospice sectors.

That phrase cutting-edge also applies to the winner in the Innovation category, TechSpring. Launched more than three years ago, this venture, in the words of its co-founder Christian Lagier, exists at the intersection of healthcare and technology, and has forged unique collaborative efforts between innovators, healthcare providers, and even patients to bring new developments to the market.

Lastly, in the category called Collaboration in Health/Wellness, a large, powerful collaboration led by the Western Mass. Training Consortium and the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region has been changing — and saving — lives through a host of innovative initiatives.

Together, and also individually, these stories are powerful — powerful enough to take your eyes off the new casino for a minute and understand just some of the many other awesome things taking place in this region.

Cover Story

MGM Opens

MGM Springfield will open for business on August 24, thus ending a seven-year-long effort to bring a resort casino to Springfield’s South End and beginning a new era in the city’s history. In this special section, we’ll look at what brought us to this moment and what MGM’s arrival means to a wide range of constituencies, from those now working for the company to those doing business with it. (Photography provided by Aerial 51 Studios)

• The Moment is Here

Springfield Begins a New and Intriguing Chapter in its History

• From Their Perspective

Area Civic, Business Leaders Weigh in on MGM and its Impact

• An MGM Chronology

• Hitting the Jackpot

Dozens of Area Companies Become Coveted MGM Vendors

• MGM Springfield at a Glance

• In Good Company

Area Residents Find Opportunity Knocks at MGM Springfield

• Who’s Who?

The MGM Springfield Leadership Team

MGM Springfield

The Moment Is Here

groundbreaking ceremonies

Few in attendance at the groundbreaking ceremonies three and half years ago could have imagined how Springfield’s South End would be transformed by MGM Springfield.

Back about 1,300 days or so ago, several hundred business and civic leaders and other dignitaries gathered in bright sunshine in Springfield’s South End to witness the official ground-breaking ceremonies for MGM Springfield.

Analysis

Those in attendance that day would probably struggle now to remember what that area looked like back then. Maybe not. The former Zanetti School and the old correctional facility (known as the ‘alcohol jail’ to many) on Howard Street were considerable landmarks, and it’s not difficult to conjure up remembrances of them and other structures now gone.

More to the point, it was virtually impossible for anyone there that day to stretch their imagination and conceive of the complex that occupies that site now. We had all seen the renderings, but back on that warm spring day, those architect’s drawings were a long, long way from reality.

Indeed, even though the journey began well before that day, those groundbreaking ceremonies marked the official moment, for most of us, anyway, when the $960 million MGM Springfield project became real. And even then, it didn’t actually seem real.

This was (and is) Springfield after all, and in the minds of many, something this big, something this grand, something this potentially life-altering, just wasn’t going to happen here. MGM was going to change its mind. The Legislature was going to screw things up. Something bad was going to happen.

The city hasn’t really seen anything like this probably since George Washington picked that acreage on the hill above downtown as the site of the young nation’s first arsenal — what became the Springfield Armory.

But here we are, 1,300 or so days later. It is real, and is happening, even if for some it seems surreal.

That phrase ‘history-making’ is overused these days, to the point where it doesn’t mean much anymore. The talking heads at ESPN use it almost every night to refer to some relief pitcher, hockey goalie, or field goal kicker achieving some obscure statistical milestone.

But with MGM Springfield, it fits. The city hasn’t really seen anything like this probably since George Washington picked that acreage on the hill above downtown as the site of the young nation’s first arsenal — what became the Springfield Armory. The armory, as most know, changed the course of this city and this region in all kinds of ways.

The innovation and craftsmanship that marked the Armory’s early days — and all its days, for that matter — sparked waves of related businesses and an entire business sector — precision manufacturing. Meanwhile, the solid jobs available at the Armory spurred wealth and the construction of the large, beautiful homes that gave the city its nickname.

What kind of chapter in the city’s history will MGM author?

We really don’t know. No one does.

Back 30 years or so ago, the good people of Atlantic City hailed the gambling palaces being built there then as a renaissance, a rebirth for a city that had fallen on some very hard times. We all know how that turned out.

MGM Springfield is opening at a time when competition for the gambling dollar has never been stiffer, and the pace of competition will only accelerate as states and regions look to cash in on what appears to be a sure thing.

Only … there is no such thing, as anyone who gambles can surely tell you.

And while MGM Springfield is many things to many people, it is, overall, a gamble, and people shouldn’t ever forget that. And when you gamble, you can win, you can lose, and you can break even.

A lot can happen over the next few years or the next few decades, but we choose to believe that the city and this region will see this gamble pay off.

And while MGM Springfield is many things to many people, it is, overall, a gamble, and people shouldn’t ever forget that. And when you gamble, you can win, you can lose, and you can break even.

It will pay off in jobs, in vibrancy, in a trickle-down effect to other businesses in many sectors, and above all, in making this city relevant again, something it really hasn’t been for a long time. Remember, before that ground-breaking ceremony, there hadn’t been a significant private-sector development in downtown Springfield in almost 30 years.

Not every development will be positive; some businesses will definitely be hurt by the arrival of MGM, and there will be more traffic and hassles getting in and out of the city. And there is the very real possibility that many of those coming to visit MGM will get back in their cars, buses, and limos at the end of the stay and get right back on I-91 north or south and leave Springfield behind.

But for city leaders, the state, the Gaming Commission, this region as a whole, and especially MGM, this was a gamble well worth taking. In the end, we don’t believe anyone will regret putting their chips on Springfield and letting it ride.

Those are the kinds of words that can certainly come back to haunt someone, but we don’t believe they will. This is, as they say in this business, a solid bet — for MGM and this region.

BusinessWest invited area business and civic leaders to offer their thoughts on what the arrival of MGM Springfield means for this region. Maybe Peter Rosskothen, owner of the Log Cabin and a host of other businesses, all of them to compete with MGM in one way or another, said it best: “I am excited about the excitement.”

So are we.

George O’Brien is the editor of BusinessWest.

MGM Springfield

From Their Perspective

Editor’s Note: As the countdown to MGM’s grand opening ticks down to the final hours, we asked a number of area business and civic leaders for their thoughts on what this momentous development means for Springfield and the surrounding region.

Nancy F. Creed

Nancy F. Creed

Nancy F. Creed, president, Springfield Regional Chamber

“MGM is already making a difference in the local economy — from job creation to utilizing local vendors and suppliers to attracting all types of folks to downtown. You see those results every day. Just this past week, I met a couple from Sardinia who were here on leisure travel. The streets are bustling with people; restaurants are filling up; people are lined up to get coffee at cafes. It is an exciting time in Springfield and in the region and I can only imagine what more is to come once they officially open!”

Richard Sullivan, president and CEO, Economic Development Council of Western Mass.

“MGM presents an exciting economic opportunity for Springfield and Western Mass. Certainly the almost $1 billion investment in downtown Springfield, the construction jobs, and now permanent 3,000 new jobs are significant. However, the real opportunity is the yearly $50 million purchase of goods and services from the existing local economy. MGM has worked diligently to fulfill this commitment. All of this investment will stay local and provide our local businesses an opportunity to grow.

MGM also presents an opportunity to grow our travel and tourism economy and our convention business. Western Mass already has a lot to offer with the Hall of Fame, Museums, Yankee Candle, Northampton restaurant scene, the Armory, and Six Flags. Adding the new casino and entertainment options brings the region’s culinary and hospitality offerings to a new level.”

Peter Rosskothen

Peter Rosskothen

Peter Rosskothen, owner, Log Cabin, Delaney House, Delaney’s Market & D. Hotel & Suites:

“I am excited about the excitement. I hope to see some new businesses in downtown soon. I know that MGM will cannibalize some of our businesses, but we should be able to compensate for that with increased tourism and the support of its employees. Increased tax revenue, plus the commitment of funds from MGM to promote tourism should increase visitation to our market. I am hopeful that this rising tide lifts all boats. Welcome MGM!”

Mary Kay Wydra

Mary Kay Wydra

Mary Kay Wydra, president of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau:

“The primary role of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau is to attract visitors to Western Mass., and MGM Springfield will certainly help us accomplish that. Tourism is the state’s third-largest industry and continuing to grow in our region. We are confident that MGM Springfield’s incredible new development with a variety of entertainment in the heart of downtown will bring more visitors. It’s our job to encourage these folks to see more, do more, and stay longer, because that translates into additional spending. All of this extra revenue enhances businesses, governments, and residents across our region alike.”

Kevin Kennedy

Kevin Kennedy

Kevin Kennedy, chief development officer for the city of Springfield

“MGM and its $1.1 billion investment in Springfield is a game changer for the region. The job-creation, repeat vendor spending, and world-class entertainment will impact us well beyond anything we could have hoped for in the aftermath of the tornado. Trains through Union Station will provide first-class transportation south to Hartford and New York. In 2019 the service will expand as far north as Greenfield. More than 400 new units of market-rate housing have been created in the downtown. The excitement is real and it will hit home when we welcome Stevie Wonder on Sept. 1.”

Robert A. Nakosteen

Robert A. Nakosteen

Robert A. Nakosteen, professor, Isenberg School of Management, UMass Amherst

“Manufacturing activity in Springfield peaked in the 19th century, and though interrupted by two World Wars, has been in decline ever since. Though anchored by Mass Mutual and Baystate Health, employment growth in the city has been tepid or non-existent for a long time. Now, the MGM casino promises to bring renewed vitality and growth to Springfield. After a construction phase that created 2,000 jobs, once the Casino is fully operational it will employ 3000 people, with some of the hiring from long-neglected pools of available labor. To put these numbers in perspective, from 2010 through 2017, as the state economy was in a strong rebound from the “Great Recession,” Springfield added less than 4,000 jobs overall.”

Nicole Griffin

Nicole Griffin

Nicole Griffin, chief talent officer and owner, Manehire

“ManeHire is thrilled that this day has come when we can celebrate the opening of MGM Springfield. This investment will continue to induce development in the city and support both our tourist and surrounding businesses. The economic development and workforce impact MGM Springfield is providing is just what the city needed. Congratulations MGM Springfield and the residents of Springfield. We did it! #TheCityofWinners.”

Paul Robbins

Paul Robbins

Paul Robbins, president, Paul Robbins Associates Strategic Communications

“The term ‘game-changer’ is probably overused, but this may be one instance where it applies. Springfield, under many administrations, has been seeking to reinvent the core city. There have been many great ideas through the years, but each lacked the economic engine required, which MGM supplies, to create real transformational change downtown. It will be fascinating to see if and how that extends through the city center and regionally on things like job growth and housing values.”

Jack Dill

Jack Dill

Jack Dill, president, Colebrook Realty Corp.

“While I wasn’t a proponent of gaming in Springfield, I have been impressed with how MGM made the case and met its obligations through the approval and development process. Much of the impact on existing businesses in the area will depend on MGM’s ability to expand the market by drawing customers from outside the region and from other venues. If they succeed in long-term market expansion, other businesses in the food, lodging, and entertainment sectors should benefit. If they don’t succeed in growing the market, cannibalization would be an obvious outcome. I imagine MGM will make a concerted effort in the first several months to build market share and demonstrate the new casino’s value proposition; that would impact competitors of all types in the short term following the facility’s opening. We are already seeing the employment impacts in regional and local unemployment data; the Casino, CRRC, and an overall expanding regional economy have been good for job growth in segments that weren’t previously experiencing strong employment demand. We have observed wage rates and time to fill open positions reflecting this demand.”

Nate Costa

Nate Costa

Nate Costa, president, Springfield Thunderbirds

“I believe that MGM is going to be a game-changer for downtown Springfield. Everything they have planned is going to be top-notch, and first class — from their events to their facilities. To have a world-renowned brand steps away from the MassMutual Center and other downtown landmarks, I believe it will spur even more economic development and life in our city. They are also our presenting partner, and an organization that has stepped up and supported our vision from day one. We couldn’t be more excited for MGM to open their doors, and to join us in the true renaissance of a great American downtown. It truly will be a first in this city.”

Eugene Cassidy, president and CEO of the Eastern States Exposition

“The arrival of MGM presents a number of opportunities for this region, especially with regard to tourism, conventions, meetings — bringing a wide array of groups to the Greater Springfield area. The Big E already hosts a wide array of trade shows and events, but the arrival of MGM presents a great opportunity to drive more trade-show business to this region. To say that there is now a world-class resort casino in Springfield will be a great sales tool.”

David Cruise, president and chief executive officer, the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County

“The MGM casino is not about table games and entertainment, it’s about economic development and sustainable job-creation. It’s about the continued economic resurgence of the host community and the continued economic expansion of a critical region of the Commonwealth. We’ve always looked upon this as a job-creation initiative. We’ve always felt that our responsibility is to look at the broader region and make sure that the opening of MGM is a catalyst that helps everyone grow.”

John Doleva

John Doleva

John Doleva, president and CEO, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

“The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame formally welcomes our ‘new’ neighbor, MGM, to Springfield with their beautiful new expansive complex just across the highway from the Hall of Fame. MGM has already proven to be an active, energetic and committed community partner and we know that our work together will provide visitors very unique options as they visit the Springfield region. The advent of the MGM property will be a magnet to our community and all attractions and businesses need to be prepared to put our best foot forward to complement the influx of these new and affluent customers.”

Kate Phelon

Kate Phelon

Kate Phelon, executive director of the Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce

“Back in 2013, I remember being contacted by MGM with regards to building a casino in Springfield. While they didn’t even have the contract at that time, I must admit I was quite intrigued with the call. Fast forward to the present, and in a few days’ time, our area will have a world-renowned casino right in our back yard. We all know and understand the economic impact it will have primarily for Springfield, the vendors who were able to meander the procurement process, and those who are now employed with a prestigious enterprise. It is, no doubt, a very exciting moment for Western Massachusetts, when we are so often overlooked by major corporations. Having met and worked with several of the MGM teams over the past several years, I was impressed with their accessibility, enthusiasm, and genuine concern for fulfilling their contractual obligations. And, might I add, about wanting their guests to have an exceptionally good time. Whether you are for or against gambling, the opening of MGM will be electrifying, and only time will tell if it is sustainable.”

MGM Springfield

Editor’s Note: MGM’s opening on August 24 will cap a more-than-seven-year-long process of bringing a resort casino to Springfield’s South End. Here is a chronology of the events that brought us to this moment in Springfield’s history.

Original designs called for a 25-story large glass-façade hotel

Original designs called for a 25-story large glass-façade hotel; they were changed in late 2015 to include a five-story hotel along Main Street.

• Nov. 2011: Gov. Deval Patrick signs “An Act Establishing Expanded Gaming in the Commonwealth,” allowing for up to three destination resort casinos located in three geographically diverse regions across the state, as well as one slots-only facility. The act states that the Commonwealth will receive 25% of gross gaming revenues, and also creates an independent body, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, to oversee the implementation and licensing process.

• August 2012: MGM formally announces its interest in a resort casino in Springfield. In fact, a total of three proposals for casinos emerge in the City of Homes — MGM, which targets the city’s tornado-damaged South End; Penn National, which proffers a development in the North End; and Ameristar, which hones in on the former Westinghouse site.

• Dec. 2012: Ameristar withdraws its proposal for the Westinghouse site, leaving just two competing projects in Springfield.

• April 2013: Mayor Dominic Sarno selects MGM Springfield as the winning proposal for the city of Springfield, ending Penn National’s bid in the North End.

• July 2013: Springfield voters approve the casino project at a referendum, with 58% of voters in favor. The project is now one of three proposals competing to win the Western Mass. casino license, along with Hard Rock’s proposal in West Springfield, alongside the Big E fairgrounds, and Mohegan Sun’s proposal for Palmer, just off the Mass Pike.

• Sept. 2013: West Springfield voters block the Hard Rock proposal, leaving only MGM and Mohegan Sun in the race for the region’s sole casino license.

• Nov. 2013: Palmer voters follow suit, defeating Mohegan Sun’s project, leaving MGM Springfield as the only Western Mass. proposal standing. Had either Hard Rock or Mohegan Sun won voter approval, the Gaming Commission would have had to make the final decision — but the commission must still give the official go-ahead to MGM.

• Jan. 2014: Michael Mathis, vice president of Global Gaming Development for MGM’s hospitality division, is named president and chief operating officer of the MGM Springfield project. “I’m appreciative and grateful for this opportunity,” he said at the time. “There is much to be done in and around Springfield to bring this exciting project to completion. I look forward to continuing to build a team that will create a world-class urban casino-resort proposal and anchor a renaissance for this important Gateway City and the region around it.”

• June 2014: The Gaming Commission unanimously votes to grant the Western Mass. license to MGM. The commission’s decision comes after an extensive, two-year process of hearings and background investigations culminating in a final week of hearings and deliberations.

• Nov. 2014: The final roadblock for MGM’s development falls when a referendum attempting to ban casinos in the state fails, with more than 59% of voters giving the go-ahead to the Commonwealth’s casino era. The four-year process of opening MGM Springfield begins in earnest, with MGM planning to create about 3,000 permanent jobs to benefit the local job market.

• Jan. 2015: MGM Resorts International names Seth Stratton vice president and general counsel of MGM Springfield. Stratton, a Springfield native and Longmeadow resident, is responsible for overseeing legal affairs and government relations at the casino resort.

• March 2015: Brian Packer is named vice president of Development and Construction for MGM Springfield, and a groundbreaking ceremony is held at the site.

• June 2015: Springfield officials announce that Springfield will coordinate the casino project in the South End with the multi-year reconstruction of the Interstate 91 viaduct through the city’s downtown, which will delay the opening until 2018. The original target date was late 2017.

• Sept. 2015: MGM unveils a redesigned site plan for the project, abandoning the planned 25-story glass-facade hotel on State Street, in favor of a five-story hotel to be located on Main Street. The changes also include the reduction of the parking garage by one floor, and market-rate apartments being relocated off-site.

This rendering shows the revised design of MGM Springfield

This rendering shows the revised design of MGM Springfield, with this view capturing the landscape on State Street.

• Feb. 2017: MGM Springfield announces the terms of an agreement with the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority (MCCA) and Spectra by Comcast Spectacor to become the exclusive venue manager of the MassMutual Center.

• March 2017: Hundreds of construction workers, city officials, MGM employees, and others gather at the future casino site to watch a crane raise the final steel beam into place in a topping-off ceremony.

• June 2017: Alex Dixon, a third-generation casino worker and former assistant general manager at the Horseshoe Baltimore Casino, assumes the duties of general manager of MGM Springfield. “A big part of my role is to help facilitate and build a culture,” he told BusinessWest at the time. “And the only way you can do that is by touching people and having an opportunity to not only impart the vision, but listen.”

Alex Dixon was named general manager of MGM Springfield in the spring of 2017.

Alex Dixon was named general manager of MGM Springfield in the spring of 2017.

• Nov. 2017: The MGM Springfield Career Center officially opens for business, with mass hiring events commencing two months later — a period when most of the casino’s 3,000 employees will be hired. Under the host-community agreement, 35% of those employees will be from Springfield, and 90% from a combination of Springfield and the greater region.

• Dec. 2017: The Massachusetts Casino Career Training Institute, a joint effort between Holyoke Community College and Springfield Technical Community College, opens, with classes launching in February.

• May 2018: Passersby finally see signage for the casino and hotel, including the MGM Springfield sign atop the parking garage, highly visible from I-91. Meanwhile, a dome is raised atop the MGM Springfield hotel, just above the hotel’s presidential suite.

• June 2018: MGM Springfield hosts its final pre-opening hiring event, interviewing hundreds of applicants and hiring many of them on the spot.

• August 2018: Plans are announced for MGM Springfield’s Aug. 24 grand opening, which will be preceded by a parade down Main Street at 10:30 a.m. from the corner of State and Main streets, featuring the world-famous Budweiser Clydesdales. The procession will arrive at MGM Springfield at 11 a.m., at which time the doors to the casino will officially open — never to close.

MGM Springfield

Hitting the Jackpot

For some, the contracts are truly life-changing, providing an opportunity to add employees, not cut back. For others, they amount to solid additions to the portfolio. In every case, though, status as an MGM vendor has brought with it a significant payoff.

Dennis King says that only a few weeks ago, he was thinking about selling off some vehicles and downsizing; a huge contract with MGM has certainly changed the trajectory of his company.

Dennis King says that only a few weeks ago, he was thinking about selling off some vehicles and downsizing; a huge contract with MGM has certainly changed the trajectory of his company.

Dennis King says that, from the day MGM first set its sights on Springfield, he became focused on doing business with the casino giant.

But he didn’t let this pursuit consume him, nor did he allow himself to get too excited, because, from the start, and to borrow a phrase from the gaming industry, King, president of Chicopee-based King Ward Coach Lines, considered himself a long shot. A real long shot.

That’s because Peter Pan Bus Lines in Springfield is his main competitor, and, outwardly, he thought his rival was, to borrow a phrase from his own industry, more or less in the driver’s seat when it came to winning a coveted contract to provide a variety of services to MGM.

“I never, in my wildest dreams, thought this was going to happen; I’m shocked we got this. I was told to my face that they were going to go with Peter Pan.”

So when he received that initial e-mail a few weeks back indicating that the casino giant would like to do business him, he stayed in his seat, but he was more than a little taken aback.

“I never, in my wildest dreams, thought this was going to happen; I’m shocked we got this,” he told BusinessWest, referring to a contract that will make MGM his biggest account. “I was told to my face that they were going to go with Peter Pan.”

The contract calls for King Ward to provide shuttle service from parking lots at the Big E to the casino the first few days it’s open, and also daily services (line runs) from Worcester, Brattleboro, Vt. (down through Hampshire County), the Berkshires, Holyoke and Chicopee, Hartford, and other Connecticut communities — three buses a day doing six runs.

To say that this contract is huge — the word King used himself a number of times — would be, well, a huge understatement.

Indeed, King, projecting that the opening of MGM Springfield would put a real hurt on the company’s line runs and charter service to the Connecticut casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, and coupling that with not getting the MGM contract (which, again, was his prediction), was preparing to make cutbacks.

“I had intentions of downsizing my company, selling off vehicles and reducing staff, because Mohegan and Foxwoods are big destinations for us,” he told BusinessWest, adding that now, with this contract in hand, he has bought additional vehicles — vans to handle smaller groups travelling to the casino but also other destinations — and projects that he will have to hire a new dispatcher and several more drivers.

Thus, MGM’s contract is a game changer in every sense of that phrase, and King is certainly not alone in seeing his future altered in a profound manner.

Rebeca Merigian can certainly relate, although the future is already here.

“The work is really starting to roll in; we’ve been preparing the wardrobe department for about three weeks now. We’ve broken records here.”

BusinessWest first caught up with her in April, when the ink was drying, figuratively but almost literally, on a contract for the fourth-generation dry-cleaning business she now owns to handle essentially every uniform to be worn by an MGM Springfield employee.

Rebeca Merigian

Rebeca Merigian says that a year ago, the focus at Park Cleaners was on survival. A massive contract with MGM Springfield has changed all that, and prompted her to buy new equipment such as the steam tunnel behind her.

At that time, she projected that the contract would double the volume of business at a company that had seen little, if any, growth in years, and add a few bodies to the payroll. When we circled back recently, as work was coming in from the casino in ever-larger amounts, her predictions were coming to pass.

“The work is really starting to roll in; we’ve been preparing the wardrobe department for about three weeks now,” she said earlier this month, adding that racks at the company are filled with chef coats, shirts for the table games dealers, suits for limo drivers, and much more. “We’ve broken records here.”

Not every business owner that is now an MGM vendor is going to have the kind of life-altering experience that King and Merigian are enjoying, but for dozens of companies, MGM, which is expected to spend $50 million a year on goods and services from local suppliers, has become a very solid addition to the portfolio, one that will give their products exposure to thousands of people a day and to individuals from across the country and probably around the world.

A partial list of these vendors includes a host of businesses, small and large, from brewers to produce providers; fruit-basket makers to a kitchen-supply outfit; a hand-dryer maker to a mattress manufacturer.

Some of the businesses, like Williams Distributing in Chicopee, have long histories, while others, like White Lion Brewery and the D-13 Group are startups or next-stage ventures.

As the casino prepares to open in a matter of hours, not weeks or even days, BusinessWest takes another look at one of the more important aspects of MGM’s arrival — the boost to be received by a number of area businesses across a host of sectors.

Lion Around

Ray Berry has already enjoyed a good deal of success with his craft beer label White Lion. Indeed, the brand has moved well beyond Western Mass., and is now statewide, having made deep inroads into the lucrative Boston market, with the north and south shores being the next targets.

Ray Berry, right, with partner Bill Collins, shows off King of Hearts Lager, to be sold exclusively at MGM Springfield.

Ray Berry, right, with partner Bill Collins, shows off King of Hearts Lager, to be sold exclusively at MGM Springfield.

But the contract Berry signed to provide MGM with an exclusive label, to be called King of Hearts Lager, is perhaps the most significant development in the brand’s short history because of the exposure it will provide.

“To be in a position to have our brand and lager in front of thousands of people on a daily basis extends our brand and our visibility tremendously,” he told BusinessWest. “And we believe that with the right approach, and the right strategic conversations, we’ll be able to broaden our relationship accordingly.”

“We wanted to present some brand standards that would be appealing to MGM Springfield and their team, and we presented them with several concepts. We went through several meetings, which also included some pilot taste tests, and we decided to move forward with the King of Hearts name.”

Berry said MGM and White Lion have been in discussions about doing business together for some time now. After the food and beverage lineup for the casino was finalized, that allowed the parties to take those talks to a higher level, with the focus on being creative, he noted.

The result was King of Hearts Lager.

“We wanted to present some brand standards that would be appealing to MGM Springfield and their team, and we presented them with several concepts,” Berry explained. “We went through several meetings, which also included some pilot taste tests, and we decided to move forward with the King of Hearts name.”

Thus, the bottle has two lions on it — the White Lion logo around the middle, and the MGM Lion on the neck. People will only be able to drink this label at MGM, but, as Berry noted earlier, visitors to the casino — and up to 10,000 are expected each day — will be introduced to the brand and, hopefully, compelled to look for it at home.

“When you think about the kinds of people who will be going to MGM — the global connoisseur, the festival goer, families, individuals coming in for events — all of them may encounter the White Lion brand,” he noted. “And when they get back to their respective geographic area, they may go to their local restaurant or package tour and be able to extend that experience.”

Bill Gagnon sounded a somewhat similar tone, only he was talking about a much different kind of experience — the one that takes place at the end of a visit to the men’s or ladies’ room.

Bill Gagnon says MGM Springfield’s order for 96 integrated sink systems will generate some real momentum

Bill Gagnon says MGM Springfield’s order for 96 integrated sink systems will generate some real momentum for D-13 Group, the startup venture he launched last year.

Gagnon is president of Natick-based D-13 Group, suppliers of Integrated Sink Systems, which, as that name implies brings a host of components together in one system, including the XLERATORsync Hand Dryer, produced in East Longmeadow by Excel Dryer, the company started and still led by his father, Denis.

MGM has ordered 96 of the integrated systems for its restaurants, hotel, and meeting facilities, said Bill Gagnon, adding the company and its signature product are still just getting off the ground, and MGM’s contract provides a huge boost.

“It’s a huge deal for D-13 Group, as a new company, to supply a brand and international entity such as MGM; to add them to our profile is a significant development for us.”

But the MGM corporation is actually a repeat customer, he noted, adding that the first real client for the integrated system was MGM’s National Harbor Casino in Maryland; the units at MGM Springfield are what he described as the “production version.”

“And in between, we’ve done some new jobs,” he said, listing the JFK Library in Boston, Red Rose Pizza in Springfield, and other projects. “It’s a huge deal for D-13 Group, as a new company, to supply a brand and international entity such as MGM; to add them to our profile is a significant development for us.”

Along for the Ride

The same could certainly be said for King Ward, the company started by King’s father, Robert, and partner Russ Ward. The venture turns 30 this year, and, as its president noted earlier, this wasn’t shaping up to be a great anniversary year.

Indeed, the company had developed a very solid business taking individuals and a wide array of groups to the Connecticut casinos and especially Mohegan Sun — it’s a few miles closer than Foxwoods and, said King, that makes a big difference (Mohegan has been the company’s biggest destination) — and much of that business was generated from the Greater Springfield area.

With the arrival of MGM Springfield, King was projecting that many of those customers would be gambling closer to home, and a decent number wouldn’t need a bus to get there. Couple that with not getting the MGM contract, and things were looking quite glum.

But then, King got that e-mail from a consultant working for MGM who essentially started the dialogue that led to the contract. Things didn’t happen overnight, or even over a few nights, for that matter — there were some serious negotiations over specific routes — but the deal got done, as they say.

And it’s a huge deal for King Ward, which is located just a few hundred yards from the runways at Westover Air Reserve Base and has carved out a nice business dominated by charters to destinations ranging from the Bronx Zoo to Fenway Park.

The contract provides a steady stream of income, said King, and the timing of many line runs — the buses drop off passengers at 9:30 and pick them up at 2:30 p.m. — allows the company to deploy its buses elsewhere during that stretch, perhaps for charters to MGM Springfield.

“This is the biggest thing that will ever happen to our company,” he said.

Rebeca Merigian could likely say the same thing. Park Cleaners has had big customers in the past, including MassMutual, but nothing like this. Each of the 3,000 MGM employees will have three uniforms, and Park will handle all of that. But there is also dry cleaning coming in from employees, and new business opportunities developing, such as work for the meeting facilities at the casino complex.

The volume became so great so quickly — “we’re pushing about 500 pieces a day, and they haven’t opened yet” — the company bought some new equipment, specifically a so-called ‘steam tunnel,’ and has plans to add additional workers. Regular customers are happier because the company is now open Saturdays and Sundays.

Meanwhile, the van the company has long used to make its deliveries is no longer sufficient, said Merigian, adding that among all the other things she’s doing, she’s researching 24-foot box trucks.

All this represents quite a reversal of fortune.

“A year ago, we were talking about survival,” she said. “Now, it’s about managing this incredible surge in volume; it’s amazing.”

Cashing In

While a comparatively small company, King Ward had already made its mark in this region, becoming the transportation provider for a host of area institutions, ranging from Mount Holyoke College to the Springfield Thunderbirds.

There are buses at the company’s terminal wrapped in those clients’ logos and colors, said King, and soon they’ll be joined by a few bearing the MGM lion.

The company won’t be charging MGM for the cost of the wrap jobs, he noted, adding that this perhaps the least he can do for a client — and a contract — that has changed the trajectory of the company in, well, a huge way.

There are a few other area businesses enjoying a similar life-altering experience, and for dozens more, MGM is providing a tremendous lift.

In a few days, visitors to the casino complex can dream about hitting the jackpot; several area businesses already have.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

MGM Springfield

Editor’s Note: From the beginning, MGM Springfield has touted its $960 million resort casino as, well, much more than a casino, and as the property gets set to open, one can clearly see that this is the case. Here is a quick glimpse at the South End property and all that it will offer visitors:

The Casino

The expansive 125,000-square-foot gaming floor will feature approximately 2,550 slot machines, 120 gaming tables, a poker room and high-limit VIP gaming area for a variety of experiences.

Accomodations

• The boutique-style five-story hotel will feature 250 eclectic guestrooms inspired by the historic significance, iconic architecture and literary legacy of its urban surroundings. Each space is punctuated by details such as quotations from the works of Emily Dickinson and whimsical Merriam-Webster-inspired works of art.

Dining Experiences

MGM Springfield will offer an array of new-to-market food and beverage spots, including:

• Cal Mare: Award-winning celebrity chef Michael Mina will introduce a must-experience restaurant to the New England dining scene with Cal Mare, an Italian concept evoking the vibrant seaside elegance of Italy’s Amalfi Coast. With accolades including James Beard Foundation “Who’s Who of Food & Beverage” inductee in 2013, Gayot Restaurateur of the Year 2011, Bon Appétit Chef of the Year 2005 and more, Mina continues to dazzle the culinary world with bold dining concepts. For Cal Mare, Mina and MINA Group are collaborating with San Francisco’s Chef of the Year Adam Sobel, for whom the concept has been a passion project for several years. Seafood from the Mediterranean and Pacific Ocean will be essential menu offerings, as well as fresh handmade pastas and brick-oven pizzas. Charcoal grilled fish, crudos and lighter Italian cuisine will inspire the restaurant’s colorful menu, while the beverage program will spotlight coastal Italian wines and an extensive list of Amari including house-made limoncellos and craft cocktails.

• The Chandler Steakhouse: The name and location of The Chandler Steakhouse hold a special place in Springfield history. The restaurant is located in the former Union House Hotel — later renamed the Chandler Hotel — which was preserved as part of the development of MGM Springfield and incorporated into the new resort. Guests will savor the finest seafood and steaks at The Chandler Steakhouse, which will be helmed by Hell’s Kitchen season-14 winner, Meghan Gill. The restaurant will offer cuts of meat made with 100% Midwest Angus beef that has been dry aged in-house for 21 days. Guests will watch their dinner as it is prepared over an open mesquite charcoal broiler through a glass-walled kitchen serving signature dishes such as northwest salmon, whole steamed lobster or a tomahawk ribeye.

• TAP Sports Bar: Building off the success it found at MGM Grand Las Vegas, MGM Grand Detroit and MGM National Harbor, TAP Sports Bar will make its mark on downtown Springfield. TAP will feature a 10-lane bowling alley, arcade, and beer garden, and fans can keep up with live game action on state-of-the-art HD TVs, as well as a massive video wall featuring 32 screens that can operate individually or as one giant image. Hundreds of hand-selected, vintage memorabilia pieces will be displayed prominently in the bar and dining areas, all carefully chosen to represent the surrounding area’s deeply rooted sports history. Adjacent to the sports bar, TAP’s arcade and bowling alley will be energetic and eclectic gathering spots for gaming, drinking and socializing. The space also will house a playful area featuring vintage video games, billiards, shuffleboard, air hockey and foosball. TAP will serve up Springfield-inspired menu items, including TAP’s Hall of Fame Burger, signature wings and Reubens. Beer aficionados will appreciate the vast varietals on tap and draft at TAP’s beer garden, which also will showcase local brewery partners.

• South End Market: Adding a gourmet twist to the classic food hall, the bustling South End Market will feature a variety of quick-casual dining spots. Located off Main Street, the Market will house Wicked Noodles, a pan-Asian restaurant; Jack’s Lobster Shack, offering lobster rolls and New England-style clam chowder; an all-American eatery at Bill’s Diner; and healthy options at the Hearth Grill. Additionally, guests will be able to sit and sip at a Wine & Cheese bar or satisfy their sweet tooth at a Gelato & Espresso counter.

Meeting Facilities

In addition to large-scale convention capabilities at MassMutual Center, MGM Springfield will offer approximately 34,000 square feet of space to accommodate meetings and events ranging from business to social gatherings. The meeting and event center will feature ballrooms, meeting rooms and boardrooms adjacent to a 6,200-square-foot outdoor terrace that will flood pre-function areas with natural light. All meeting spaces will incorporate sister property names highlighting the resort’s connection to other top destinations around the country: The 10,600-square-foot ARIA Ballroom; 5,600-square-foot Bellagio Ballroom; 1,000-square-foot Borgata Meeting Room; and the 1,000-square-foot Beau Rivage Boardroom. For larger groups, the nearby MassMutual Center offers 100,000 square feet of large-scale event space.

Retail

MGM Springfield will offer a retail lineup with a decidedly local flavor, with:

• Indian Motorcycle: The Springfield-born pioneers of the American motorcycle industry, will debut the brand’s first-ever apparel store as an anchor tenant of MGM Springfield. retail collection. The store will offer items from the brand’s casual apparel line, the Indian Motorcycle 1901 Fashion Collection, which includes graphic tees, sweatshirts, hoodies and jackets inspired by Indian Motorcycle’s rich heritage. Indian Motorcycle jewelry and accessories also will be available for purchase. Mirroring the aesthetic of the store’s product lines, the space will feature an industrial-yet-modern vibe with exposed, vaulted ceilings and concrete and wood elements.

•Hannoush Jewelers: Founded in Springfield in 1980, Hannoush Jewelers is a family-owned and operated business. The MGM Springfield location will be a flagship for the expanding brand that boasts more than 50 locations throughout Massachusetts. Guests can expect to find pieces from sought-after designers such as Tacori, Breitling, Alex and Ani, Pandora and more.

• Kringle Candle: Kringle Candle unites heritage and innovation in its signature line of all-white, ultra-fragrant, pure-burning candles. The Springfield boutique will be situated in the First Spiritualist Church space (a historic High Victorian Gothic church that was literally lifted from its foundation and relocated approximately 600 feet to its new permanent home). It will draw inspiration from Kringle Candle’s thriving Bernardston shopping destination, featuring candles, eclectic gifts, keepsakes and chocolates alongside a gourmet café offering sandwiches, salads and pastries for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Entertainment

The 8,000-seat MassMutual Center is MGM Springfield’s official entertainment venue, serving as the home for large-scale conventions and events. MGM Springfield also will partner with other local venues, such as Symphony Hall, for live events;

More Entertainment

Guests can tee up at MGM Springfield’s Topgolf® Swing Suite, a new social gathering spot featuring high-tech immersive golf simulators and a lively lounge with delicious food and beverage offerings. The resort also will feature an eight-screen movie theater complex; 10-lane bowling center; serene spa; and an 8,000-square-foot pool situated within a terraced rooftop garden.

Open Air Plaza

Inspired by the classic New England town common, MGM Springfield will create a lively outdoor plaza and thriving public space, with the iconic 19th century Springfield Armory at its center. The historic United States arsenal will provide the backdrop for the open-air marketplace, which will feature live events, local artisans, farmers markets and seasonal programming including an outdoor ice rink. The plaza will become the anchor for the neighborhood’s pedestrian crowd, encouraging guests to explore the many local businesses and attractions nearby.

Art

Woven through all elements of the resort, a public fine art program inspired by the industrial ethos of Springfield will feature a captivating collection of commissioned and hand-selected pieces by international and local artists from Springfield, the greater Berkshires, New England and beyond. The property also will feature an exclusive exhibit, “Cabinet of Curiosities: Springfield Innovations from the Springfield Museums,” curated in partnership with the Springfield Museums to showcase turn-of-the-century objects throughout the resort, such as a 1925 Edison Western Union Stock Ticker, a 1915 Springfield-made Telegraphone, and an 1895 Edison Home Phonograph.

MGM Springfield

In Good Company

Editor’s Note: From the start, one of the main focal points of the discussion involving MGM Springfield has been the employment opportunities it will bring to the region. Overall, MGM has had to fill roughly 3,000 positions, and it’s filled most of them with residents of the 413. With each job awarded, there is a story. Here are five of them:

Karisma Roach

Karisma Roach

Name: Karisma Roach
Age: 24
Residence: Springfield
Position: Cage Cashier

Why did you seek employment at MGM Springfield?:

I’ve been looking for a better job opportunity for so long and it is finally here. When I came from St. Thomas a couple years ago I never thought I would have the opportunity to build my career at such an amazing company.”

What does this opportunity mean for you?:

This feels just like a dream come true. This is my first full-time and steady job. I remember I cried when I got the position, because I really needed it. I have no words to describe how I feel. But I feel like I’m part of MGM Springfield. I love the management and the staff.”

 

Keishla Morales

Keishla Morales

Name: Keishla Morales
Age: 21
Residence: Springfield
Position: Table Games Dealer

Why did you seek employment at MGM Springfield?:

First of all, I think that MGM is one of the biggest companies worldwide, but most of all in United States. I am taking advantage of the opportunity of working for the first casino at Springfield. This is my reward for all my hard-work successfully completing the Blackjack and Carnival Games courses at MCCTI.”

What does this opportunity mean for you?:

This opportunity means EVERYTHING to me. I have never gambled before, but now I love dealing cards. I’m thankful for all the instructors that helped me out in the process. I’ve had so many struggles in my short life, but being part of this company makes me feel that I can finally take control and secure my future. It makes me feel that I will be able to raise and provide my daughter everything she needs. I’m very happy to finally be here. I look forward to being in the casino life and meet all my co-workers. This experience makes me feel excited, comfortable, but most of all thankful.”

Miguel Figueroa

Miguel Figueroa

Name: Miguel Figueroa
Age: 43
Residence: Longmeadow
Position: Executive Chef at TAP Sports Bar

Why did you seek employment at MGM Springfield?:

I saw the opportunity to grow and the stability the company provides. It’s exciting to grow a concept like TAP. I’m very lucky to lead an outlet like this. I’ve been to Vegas a few times, and I thought it would be great to have something like that in Springfield. It was a no-brainer when I was asked to join the team.”

What does this opportunity mean for you?:

This means a lot. It solidifies that I have made it far, and my hard work has paid off. Running this operation means the world to me, and gives me a sense of pride. Leading one of the outlets the casino has is the ultimate goal as a chef. It separates the good from the great. I feel like I have arrived.

Timothy Mock

Timothy Mock

Name: Timothy Mock
Age: 40
Residence: Connecticut (Moving to Springfield)
Position: Security Officer

Why did you seek employment at MGM Springfield?:

I wanted to be a part of the SHOW. I am a people person, and I love helping people. I wanted to meet different types of people from all different cultures, and MGM provides that. I wanted to be a part of it all.”

What does this opportunity mean for you?:

Working here allows me to be me. I’m fun-loving, outgoing, and I love life. This is who I am. I appreciate MGM for giving me this opportunity. It’s dear to my heart. Being chosen to be a part of this family is very special, and I get to embark on this journey of my life.

Jonathan De Arce

Jonathan De Arce

Name: Jonathan De Arce
Age: 32
Residence: Springfield
Position: Executive chef for the South End Market

Why did you seek employment at MGM Springfield?:

Because I’m from Springfield! I heard about this property since the beginning. I went to Boston for five years, I gained experience, and as soon as I knew that this was real I knew it was my opportunity to come back. I know what MGM Springfield means to the area, I’m aware of where this city has been, and excited about where it is going to be very soon.

What does this opportunity mean for you?:

It means everything! The possibilities are endless. Learning from all the leaders, being able to receive training in Vegas, visiting other properties, meeting all the Executives, this is definitely an eye opener! Sky is the limit!”

MGM Springfield
Mike Mathis: President and COO
Mike Mathis: President and COO
Anthony Caratozzolo: Vice President, Food & Beverage
Alex Dixon: General Manager
Anika Gaskins: Vice President, National Marketing
Brian Jordan: Director, Surveillance
Monique Messier: Executive Director, Sales
Sarah Moore: Vice President, Marketing, Advertising & Brand
Marikate Murren: Vice President, Human Resources
Jason Rosewell: Vice President, Facilities
Jason Rucker: Executive Director, Security
Lynn Segars: Vice President, Slot Operations
Gregg Skowronski: Executive Director, Hotel Operations
Talia Spera: Executive Director, Arena Operations
Seth Stratton: Vice President and General Counsel
Courtney Wenleder: Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
Robert Westerfield: Vice President, Table Games
Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

Mayor Will Reichelt

Mayor Will Reichelt says that West Springfield’s biggest challenge may be a lack of developable land, which places a priority on maximizing existing real estate.

Like just about everyone else in this region, Will Reichelt has circled August 24 on all his calendars.

That’s the day MGM Springfield opens, as most everyone knows, and it’s a day of high expectations and some anxiety. Especially in West Springfield, where Reichelt has served as mayor for nearly three years now.

West Side isn’t the host city for MGM, but it is certainly among those to be the most impacted by the $960 million development that has gone up just across the Connecticut River.

The Eastern States Exposition will handle MGM’s overflow parking on August 24, with a shuttle running between the two locations. And the annual 16-day Big E will begin only a few weeks after MGM opens, creating considerable talk — as well as that aforementioned anxiety — about just what traffic will be like on Memorial Avenue, I-91, the Turnpike’s exit 4, the Memorial Bridge, Route 5, the North End Bridge, and other arteries in and around the city.

“It’s certainly going to be an interesting weekend and couple of weeks, with the Big E opening three weeks later,” said Reichelt, in a classic bit of understatement. “It will be interesting to see how Big E traffic interacts with MGM traffic.”

He added, as others have, that traffic and parking issues in the wake of MGM Springfield fall into the category of good problems to have, at least from a vibrancy standpoint. And looking beyond August 24 and the days to follow, Reichelt is hoping, and perhaps also expecting, that MGM will generate, in addition to traffic issues, some additional development opportunities.

“It will be interesting to see what happens long term as a result of MGM, especially just over the Memorial Bridge, where there are certainly some development opportunities,” said the mayor, referring to some of the retail areas on the eastern end of Memorial Avenue. “People have talked about a hotel, restaurants, and maybe redevelopment of the whole Memorial Avenue/Main Street area.”

More specifically, he was referring to redevelopment of some vacant or underutilized properties there and in other areas within the community, which has been the basic M.O. for this city for quite some time.

Indeed, unlike neighboring Westfield and many other area communities, West Side is, as they say in development circles, ‘land poor,’ meaning that most all developable parcels have been developed. That goes for residential development — although a few new small projects seem to materialize each year — and especially commercial development.

Most of the projects in that latter category have involved reuse of vacant or underutilized property, and examples abound — from the conversion of the former Yale Genton property and some neighboring homes on Riverdale Street into the site of the massive Balise Honda, to the conversion of the former Boston Billiards site just north on Riverdale Street into a new Marriott Courtyard.

The most recent example is the stunning transformation of a former auto body shop just off Memorial Avenue into the home of Hot Brass, an indoor firearm and bow range that opened its doors in early August.

“It will be interesting to see what happens long term as a result of MGM, especially just over the Memorial Bridge, where there are certainly some development opportunities. People have talked about a hotel, restaurants, and maybe redevelopment of the whole Memorial Avenue/Main Street area.”

Reichelt said MGM could help trigger more developments of this kind on sites ranging from the old Medallion Motel property just over the Morgan-Sullivan Bridge linking the community to Agawam and across from The Big E, to the United Bank building on Elm Street street (the bank is moving across the street into space once occupied by Webster bank), to some properties north of I-91 on Riverdale Street, which are in less demand than those on the south side of the highway.

“South of I-91 is the real hot spot; whenever there’s a vacancy, it usually fills quickly,” said Reichelt, adding that the city’s board goal is to the make the area north of the interstate just as hot.

For this, the latest installment in its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest talked with Reichelt about ongoing efforts to bring more economic development to West Side and make the very most of the property that can be developed.

Developing Story

The ambitious Hot Brass venture, which combines a retail sporting goods store with a 17-lane recreational archery and shooting range, is, indeed, only the latest example of how underutilized properties have found new lives in this community.

And, as the mayor noted, this is out of necessity, because there are very few, if any, developable spaces left in this city, for either residential or commercial development.

West Springfield at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1774
Population: 28,391 (2014)
Area: 17.49 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $17.05 
Commercial Tax Rate: $32.90
Median Household Income: $54,434
<strong>Median Family Income: $63,940
Type of Government: Mayor, Town Council
Largest Employers: Eversource Energy, Harris Corp., Home depot, Interim Health Care, Mercy Home Care
* Latest information available

“When I was on the Planning Board four years ago, we approved a subdivision, which I assumed would be the last one,” Reichelt recalled. “But then, when I was a lawyer for the city, they approved another one, and I said, ‘that must be the last subdivision in West Side.”

Developers keep finding ways to shoehorn in smaller residential projects, he went on, but on the commercial and industrial side, the city has essentially run out of real estate.

And, as has been the case for some time now, most development — or redevelopment — efforts have been focused on the two main retail thoroughfares, Riverdale Street, home to countless auto dealerships, the massive Riverdale Shops, a cinema complex, several hotels and motels, and more, and Memorial Avenue, home to more auto dealerships, more retail plazas, and, of course, the Big E.

Both are doing very well, and are in seemingly constant motion, development-wise, said Reichelt, adding that over the past few years, Memorial Avenue had added new Fathers & Sons Audi and Volkswagen dealerships, a Chipotle, a new Florence Bank branch, and, most recently, Hot Brass, and a Sketchers outlet store.

Meanwhile, on Riverdale Street, additions to the landscape include the Marriott Courtyard, a new Pride store (the first one with a full-service kitchen), and a Balise carwash, among others.

But there are opportunities on both main drags for additional development, said the mayor.

On Riverdale, these include the site of the closed Bertucci’s restaurant, just south of the new Marriott Courtyard, and some vacant or underutilized property on the north side of the highway.

As for Memorial Avenue, there’s the former Medallion Motel site, but also the closed Hofbrauhaus restaurant, the site of the closed Debbie Wong restaurant (across the street from the Big E), and others.

The United Bank building on Elm Street

The United Bank building on Elm Street, soon to be vacated by the bank, is one of the keys to bringing more vibrancy to the downtown area.

The Medallion Motel site, at the corner of Memorial Avenue and River Street, is intriguing because of its size and proximity to the Big E, although its location, just over the Morgan-Sullivan Bridge, a site of persistent traffic congestion, is seen by some as a drawback, said the mayor, adding quickly that reconstruction of the bridge and a broad plan to redo all of Memorial Avenue from the Morgan Sullivan Bridge to the Memorial Bridge may change that outlook.

Work is slated to begin in 2021, said Reichelt, with plans calling for maintaining four lanes between the Memorial Bridge and Union Street, with some turning lanes carved out in the center (lack of such lanes leads to considerable congestion), with three lanes between the Morgan-Sullivan Bridge and Gate 9 of the Big E, with turning lanes added on that stretch as well. Meanwhile, there will be a bike path constructed on the Big E side between the Morgan-Sullivan Bridge and Union Street, with bike lines on both sides between Union Street and the Memorial Bridge.

As for the much-anticipated reconstruction of the Morgan-Sullivan Bridge itself, that work is expected to commence after this year’s Big E concludes, said the mayor.

Back on Riverdale Street, one of the main goals at present is to stimulate more interest in the section north of the highway. And for many retailers, it remains a much tougher sell.

“We need to help more people understand that north of I-91 is still Riverdale Road and it’s still a high-traffic area,” he explained. “There are many businesses that have been there forever and they’ve done extremely well.”

But while Riverdale Street and Memorial Avenue get most of the attention, community leaders are also focusing efforts on an often-overlooked asset — what’s considered the downtown area, the stretch of Elm Street beginning at Park Street.

That section boasts the Majestic Theater, a few restaurants, including B-Napoli, the town library, a few banks, and some retail, and has considerable potential as a destination, said the mayor.

“Every mayor says they want to have a Northampton-like downtown,” he told BusinessWest. “And in a way, our downtown suits itself to that, because we have a huge common on Park Street and a smaller common on Elm Street.”

The downtown section is hampered by a lack of parking, as many downtowns are, he noted, adding that a recent renovation of the municipal lot by City Hall to add more than 100 spaces will help.

One key moving forward is the United Bank building, which sits adjacent to the Majestic Theater and is around the corner from the city’s offices.

Years ago, the space occupied by the bank was home to a number of small retail shops, said the mayor, adding that a similar mixed-use role — with residential as possibly part of the mix — could help bring more people, and more vibrancy, to that section of the city.

Meanwhile, there are a number of municipal projects ongoing, everything from construction of a new elementary school, to infrastructure work including water and sewer projects, to ongoing improvements to Mittineague Park, all aimed at making the city a better place to live and work.

Some Solid Bets

Projecting ahead to August 24 and the days to follow, Reichelt said West Springfield residents, those who commute through the city, and even retailers on Memorial Avenue should be ready for what’s to come because they’ve dealt with Big E traffic for years.

“They know what to expect,” he said, adding that long-term, it’s a little harder to predict just what will transpire.

Overall, for the city across the river from the casino, the changing landscape presents many new opportunities to put some older properties to new and exciting uses.

There’s been a lot of that in West Springfield over the past several years and there are very good odds (yes, that’s a gaming industry term) that there will be much more in the years to come.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Opinion

Editorial

‘Palpable.’

That’s an adjective that means, among other things, that something is noticeable, perceptible, or tangible.

People all over the region have been using that word in reference to what’s happening in downtown Springfield as the buildup to MGM Springfield’s opening reaches its climax. They’re deploying the term with regard to the excitement level, the energy, and the anticipation for what is to come.

They’re right to do so, because all of those things are clearly noticeable and tangible. And while it’s more so in the downtown area, there are similar feelings in neighboring cities and across the region for that matter.

This is a good feeling, one we haven’t felt around here in a long time — or ever, really. People don’t know what’s going to happen on August 24 and the days to follow, but the sense is that something transformational will occur. And, like we said, when have we seen that lately?

BusinessWest attempts to capture these sentiments — and this palpable energy and excitement — in a special section. In it, we talk to area business and civic leaders, business owners who have become MGM vendors, area residents who will now put on an MGM nametag every day, and other constituencies. The common denominator in each case is genuine excitement about what is already happening and what will happen in the weeks, months, and years to come.

At BusinessWest, we share the excitement because we’ve not only been recording this all-important development for the past seven years or so, but we’ve talked directly with people who have, well, seen their lives changed because of this.

A few months back, we talked with many young people who were all looking for some kind of opportunity, job-wise or career-wise, several years ago, and came to MGM, either by walking in the door of their small office at 1441 Main St. or wandering to the MGM booth at a job fair. One thing led to another, and they wound up joining the company and playing important roles in bringing MGM Springfield to this day.

We’ve talked with more young people, and some who are not so young, who have joined the MGM workforce as dealers, cashiers, and chefs. And for some, the job represents much more than a job.

And we’ve talked with people like Dennis King, president of King Ward Coach lines who have seen the trajectory of their company changed in a profound way by earning a contract with MGM.

In each case, the emotions are real and the excitement (here comes that word again) is palpable.

But beyond individuals and companies, we’re excited for the region. In a few days, people will be getting into cars, buses, vans, and limos and telling people they’re heading to Springfield, Massachusetts. That’s not something they were likely to say 20, 10, five, or even two years ago.

Yes, it took a casino to get them here, but once here, they’ll have a chance (hopefully) to maybe see all the other great things we have in this region. Before, unless they were coming to the Big E (and in most cases, they were just coming for the Big E) they never had a chance to do that. Springfield has always been on the map in a literal sense, but now, it’s really on the map, and, more importantly, people will find it.

In a few days, people will be getting into cars, buses, vans, and limos and telling people they’re heading to Springfield, Massachusetts. That’s not something they were likely to say 20, 10, five, or even two years ago.

There’s talk that a few businesses in downtown Springfield will actually be closed on August 24. The thinking is that traffic will be heavy, parking spaces will be hard to come by, and it might just be easier to give everyone the day off. The fact that it’s a Friday in late August probably made the decision a little easier.

But still, businesses closing for a day because their employees would likely have a hard time getting to work and then finding a place to park? That should tell you something.

It tells us that something special is happening. And everyone can sense it; the word, again, is palpable.

The Casino Era

The Final Countdown

Alex Dixon stands just outside the entrance to the hotel at MGM Springfield

Alex Dixon stands just outside the entrance to the hotel at MGM Springfield, which is nearly ready for prime time and the Aug. 24 opening.

The almost decade-long process of opening the state’s first resort casino is entering its final days. There is a beehive of activity in Springfield’s South End, and that represents only what people can actually see. The process of not only opening the facility on schedule, but “making this place special,” as General Manager Alex Dixon described it, is humbling and exhilarating at the same time.

12,704.

That’s how many “discrete tasks” Alex Dixon said he and the ever-growing team at MGM Springfield must complete before the $950 million facility can open its doors to the public at 11 a.m. on Aug. 24.

12,704!

Not ‘more than 12,000.’ Not ‘12,700 or so.’

12,704. And you thought you had a lot of lines on your ‘to-do’ list.

“And those are just the things we thought about as we put together our critical paths,” said Dixon, general manager of MGM Springfield, who managed to find a few moments to speak with BusinessWest late last month (and he had to work hard at it). He couldn’t say how many of those tasks he and his team had drawn a proverbial line through, but he hinted strongly that, while considerable progress has been made, there were still quite a few (thousand) to go.

The giant MGM Springfield sign above the massive parking garage

The giant MGM Springfield sign above the massive parking garage is the latest addition to the Springfield skyline.

But he also spoke with the utmost confidence about getting it all done, primarily because of the team that’s been put in place.

“When you think about the breakdown of those numbers, it’s a lot,” he said, putting heavy emphasis on that last word, not that he really needed to. “But we’ve got a great project-management process, we’ve done this before in other jurisdictions, we have a lot of people who are seasoned and know what they’re doing, and we have a very experienced and highly trained management team.”

As for those discrete tasks, they cover 45 different “work streams,” as Dixon called them, and 431 key milestones, many, if not most of them, already met. And they come in every size and shape, from having permits in place for each of the restaurants to meeting the required numbers for each of dozens of categories within the MGM Springfield workforce; from the thousands of items on the construction checklist to making sure the warehouse in Chicopee is stocked with everything it needs to be stocked with.

Overall, Dixon described the process of opening MGM on time — meaning with those 12,704 tasks completed and all licenses and permits and employees in place — as humbling, but also exciting and exhilarating. But he kept stressing that opening the doors on schedule is just one part of the story — and one part of the challenge.

Indeed, he said he’s not losing sleep worrying about getting everything done by Aug. 24. But what does keep him at night — sort of, but not really — are the other two main categories for all those discreet tasks: ‘the things that will make this a great customer experience’ and ‘how do we make this special?’

“We’ll open our doors at 11 o’clock on August 24 — that was never a question,” he explained. “We’re in ‘how do we make this place special?’ mode. We’re going to open, but we’re also going to have a great customer experience. The things that keep me up at night are making sure that we deliver on the promise of a phenomenal entertainment.

“You want to be unique, you want to stand out; I want to compete, and I want to win,” he went on, referring to the considerable competition MGM Springfield will face. “And our team does, too; that’s what motivates me, and it’s what motivates all of us.”

For this issue, one of the last in the pre-MGM era, BusinessWest talked with Dixon about the daunting process of opening the doors, and also about what will happen in Springfield on Aug. 24 and the days to follow.

He couldn’t — or at least he didn’t want to — make projections on how many people will come through the doors on opening day. But he expected the facility to reach full capacity (10,000 people in the casino) and for Springfield to see a day probably unlike any other in its history.

“There has been a tremendous amount of pent-up demand for some time now,” he said, referring to the almost-decade-long task of getting the state’s first resort casino up and running. “We are preparing to make sure that we can do our best to help satiate that demand on opening day.”

Task Masters

As he talked with BusinessWest about these final few days until opening, but also the long, character-building process of getting to this point, Dixon said MGM Springfield has essentially evolved from a startup company with a handful of employees (granted, one with a billion-dollar construction project unfolding around them) into one of the region’s largest employers.

The metamorphosis has come slowly and greatly accelerated over the past several months, to the point where it’s much harder for him to keep track of additions to the staff and putting names with faces. But the culture that was created when the company was a handful of people working on the ninth floor of Monarch Place, and later MGM’s headquarters on State Street, still prevails today.

“You walk through the hall, you meet a new face, and they may not know who you are,” he noted. “So the small things you did at the very beginning to build a great culture with that small group are important; we’re doing our best to make sure we have the right structures and processes in place to ensure that this culture emanates to the 3,000 we’ll be welcoming over the next few weeks.”

Together, this growing team is drawing lines through items on the ‘discrete tasks’ list, dozens, if not hundreds a day, said Dixon, adding, again, that the process of doing so is as exhilarating as it is daunting.

When asked what a typical day is like, he gave the expected answer — there is no such thing, or words to that effect.

But he said there are some common denominators, such as the starting time — 6 a.m. — with a daily briefing from MGM on news stories that impact the company and individual properties across the country.

MGM has made great progress toward completing the 12,704 (and counting)

Alex Dixon says MGM has made great progress toward completing the 12,704 (and counting) tasks needed to get the casino and the rest of the complex open by Aug. 24.

“And as you can imagine, as of late, we’re driving a lot of news, especially with the properties in Las Vegas,” he told BusinessWest. “That’s always a great wake-up call; you read the news locally, but also read the news that’s impacting the business.”

From there, he’s often off to a meeting with one of the many groups he’s involved with within the community, such as the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau’s executive committee breakfast session he attended the day he spoke with BusinessWest. He prefers to keep such community work in the morning so as to free up the remaining hours for his day job — or his long-day job, the way things are going.

When he talked with BusinessWest, Dixon referenced hour-long meetings with members of the executive team to address what he called ‘mission-critical items.’ Then, they were meeting three times a week. Soon (if not already), there will be a session a day.

“These are things we need to execute on,” he explained. “And it requires some degree of acceleration or just an intense level of focus to get us over the hump.”

Labor of Love

As an example, he mentioned “fallout” in a particular job category, a situation where the company is struggling to make hires. In such an instance, and there have been some, the team will work closely with the human-resources director and the leader of the department in question to ramp up efforts to address the situation.

Hiring is obviously one huge component of the process of getting things ready for Aug. 24, said Dixon, adding that 3,000 people have to be brought on board across several dozen different positions. But to get to 3,000, MGM actually needs to have a higher number of people in position to be hired, he explained.

“Once you make a job offer, there will be some people who just don’t show up,” he noted, adding that this is a hospitality-industry-wide issue, not something unique to MGM Springfield. “Just because you offer someone a job, they don’t really work until they show up that first day and get into their position.

“That’s the case across the board in many of our front-line positions,” he went on. “So what we’ve done, in some cases, is over-hire to account for some of that attrition, be it in security, beverage servers, or table-games dealers.”

But hiring covers only a portion of those 12,704 discrete tasks, said Dixon, who said they cover three basic “journeys,” as he called them — ‘customer,’ ‘employee,’ and ‘supplier’ — with the ultimate objective of earning an operating certificate from the Mass. Gaming Commission.

To get that certificate, MGM Springfield has a long list of things it has to satisfy in order to show that it is ready to welcome customers safely and appropriately — and also account for the revenue it is expected to generate for the state.

“This is a big business for the Commonwealth,” he explained. “Our regulators are on-site, and we have to satisfy a laundry list of things in order to prove we’re worthy of that operating certificate.”

He offered some examples:

• The casino must make sure the slot machines are “talking” to the central system monitored by the Gaming Commission to ensure the integrity of the games;

• All of the cameras must be approved by the commission to ensure that the operation has the appropriate oversight of the games and other areas within the complex;

• The commission also must approve the internal controls that MGM Springfield operates against so that the operation can be held accountable;

• The commission also makes sure the operation has all the needed licenses from local agencies, for everything from pouring alcohol to serving food; and

• The security plan must be approved to ensure the operation is adequately securing the facility as well as the Commonwealth’s assets.

It’s Getting Real

As opening day draws closer, the team at MGM will take the process of being ready to a different, higher level, said Dixon, referring to what he called ‘play days’ and other types of dress rehearsals for the real thing.

And these auditions will set the stage for what are known as ‘test nights’ (that will be publically announced), during which the operation’s performance will ultimately determine whether the state grants that coveted operating license.

“At those activities, we have to simulate what it is like to operate with real money and be able to perform these functions,” Dixon explained. “The Gaming Commission is assessing our ability to execute those functions in a controlled environment. That’s the big, substantive, last step before we are issued that operating certificate.”

As for what he’s seeing in Springfield now, as opposed to when he arrived 18 months ago, and what he expects to see after the casino opens, Dixon said there has been a metamorphosis there as well, especially when it comes to perceived attitudes about the casino.

“It’s been fascinating to see how things have shifted, from doubt in some cases — ‘is this really going to happen?’ — to ambivalence in other cases, to quietly watching, to trepidation, to what you see now, which is excitement.

“Whether you see people buying their tickets to see Stevie Wonder [who will appear at the MassMutual Center on Sept. 1] to people coaching up a son, daughter, niece, or nephew for an interview, or hearing the excitement of someone getting their first job or getting back into the workforce … it’s fascinating to see the progression.”

Meanwhile, he said that one doesn’t have to wait til Aug. 24 to witness the impact MGM Springfield is already having in Springfield’s downtown.

“If you walk along Main Street around noon, you see the streets teeming with people,” he noted. “They’re well-dressed, new haircuts, looking good, sharp — and friendly. You see the impact of 3,000 people, and we haven’t even onboarded everyone. You see the streets come alive with energy.

“Downtown has been defined by the absence of people after hours,” he went on. “Now, we’ll be defined by the presence of people; and this will be people from Springfield, but also surrounding communities, and people who haven’t been to Springfield in a while. I just can’t wait for people who will walk into our facility and walk into downtown Springfield and have this immense level of pride, not just in MGM, but in the city and the region.”

On Aug. 24, there will be a parade down Main Street an hour or so before the facility officially opens at 11 a.m., he said, adding that it will involve employees, dignitaries, and some entertainers from within the MGM family.

After that? He said National Harbor, the $1.5 billion casino in Maryland that MGM opened roughly 18 months ago, reached full capacity within hours of opening. And MGM is preparing for just such a contingency.

“Knock on wood, we can only hope we’ve got more demand than what we’re able to accommodate in the building,” he said, echoing a belief certainly shared by the city, the region, and the Gaming Commission.

Playing the Numbers

Getting back to his sleeping patterns as Aug. 24 draws closer, Dixon said there are obviously days when he rests better than others.

“The hours are getting shorter,” he said, adding, again, that the ever-growing team working draw lines through those 12,704 discrete tasks are working simultaneously on hundreds on individual assignments, but also the very big picture.

“It’s truly amazing; it takes every individual person on this team to take care of their silo, but also keep their head above water enough to look horizontally and make sure we’re coming together in a cohesive manner.”

It all about the journey, or journeys, Dixon said, adding that the plural is most definitely needed, as they work as a unit toward a common goal — not just opening the doors on time, but making the place special.

And that’s why this process is as exhilarating as it is daunting.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Opinion

Editorial

As the final countdown to the Aug. 24 opening of MGM continues, many in this region are circling that date and wondering just what life in downtown Springfield and beyond will be like.

And much of the speculation is somewhat negative in tone, focusing on such things as increased traffic, difficulty with finding parking spaces, longer and more difficult commutes, and how all of the above might keep people from coming into Springfield to do business.

Maybe some of that will happen — to one degree or another — especially in the first days and weeks that the casino is open for business. But even if it does, we choose to view these as only positive developments for this region.

Positive because these are all signs of vibrancy, indicators that a community or region is on the rise, qualities of a very healthy economy.

We’ll take them over the alternative any day of week.

And around here, we’ve had the alternative every day of the week — except when the I-91 viaduct was being rebuilt or the Big E is open for its annual 17-day run — pretty much for the past 40 or 50 years or so.

So this will be a welcome change. Sort of.

Again, people around here are used to breezy commutes. With rare exceptions, they don’t know what traffic jams are. They can’t relate to what their friends in Boston, New York, Chicago, or Atlanta are talking about. And unless Northampton is the destination, people around here have no problems whatsoever with finding cheap (often free) and very plentiful parking.

And they like it that way. It’s one of the reasons people come to live here. It’s quieter, there’s less traffic, and you don’t have to leave home an hour before work starts to commute 20 miles or even 10 miles, as some people do in Greater Boston.

But none of those things we like are indicative of a healthy, vibrant region, at least from an economic standpoint. Being able to breeze through Springfield at almost any hour other than 5-6 p.m. — which we can all do most weeks — is just not a good thing.

Ask anyone who lives in Boston, Cambridge, New York, or even Northampton, and they will tell you that traffic on your streets, parking shortages, and people complaining about how hard it is to get in and out of your city are all good problems to have. Really good problems to have.

They’re all signs that your community is relevant, which, for a long time, this region hasn’t been.

Think about it. Whenever there’s something happening in downtown Springfield, be it a college commencement at the MassMutual Center, induction ceremonies for the Basketball Hall of Fame, or a random Friday night when there’s something going at all the venues downtown — the MassMutual Center, Symphony Hall, and CityStage — people will complain about the traffic and congestion, but they don’t really regret it.

In fact, they’ll usually say something like ‘it’s good to see that many people downtown,’ or ‘Springfield was really hopping tonight … it took me a half-hour to get out of downtown.’ They’re not exactly happy, but they know there’s a good reason for their unhappiness.

People in the Northampton, Amherst, and Hadley area know this feeling well. Traffic on Route 9 can be very heavy at times (most times, in fact), but the businesses along that route and the communities themselves wouldn’t have it any other way. People know when it’s going to take forever to get over the Coolidge Bridge; it’s part of life there.

Will such traffic become part of life in downtown Springfield? Maybe. We might be in the minority here, but we hope so, especially if it’s traffic that will spread the wealth well beyond the casino, which it is likely to do.

We don’t have a crystal ball, certainly, and there has never been a resort casino in this region, so we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen here. But we think the expected changes will be for the better.

Again, they beat the alternative, which is all many of us have ever known.

Meetings & Conventions

Meeting Expectations

Rendering of the event spaces at MGM Springfield.

As MGM Springfield continues the final countdown to its Aug. 24 opening, the company is starting to generate considerable momentum in what will undoubtedly be one of the most important aspects of its operations — hosting meetings and conventions. MGM is creating what is being called a ‘campus,’ one that should catch the attention of groups planning everything from product showcases to association conventions to weddings.

Monique Messier was a little late for her scheduled conversation with BusinessWest, but there was a good reason — one that gave her something else to talk about.

Indeed, she was wrapping up work to book the first wedding at the hotel at MGM Springfield, and those talks took a little longer than expected.

Messier, executive director of sales for MGM Springfield, didn’t share too many details about that wedding other to say that it was booked for September — only a few weeks after the facility opens its doors — and that the couple was excited to be tying the knot in the glittering, new $950 million casino complex — and more excited that they would be the first to do so.

“It’s someone who knew they wanted to be in MGM,” she explained, referring to the short time frame between the booking and the nuptials. “They waited until we could get them into the building to see it, and we did; they were sold.”

Monique Messier

With the meeting and event spaces at the MGM Springfield hotel and the MassMutual Center, Monique Messier said, the company can sell a “campus” of facilities to a host of constituencies.

Messier said this will be obviously be the first of many weddings at the facility, and that such ceremonies will comprise one element in a spectrum of gatherings that can be staged at a broad portfolio of meeting and event spaces at the casino and the MassMutual Center across the street.

“It’s a resort feel coming to downtown Springfield,” she noted, adding that this ‘feel,’ as well as the views and a wide array of facilities and amenities, should move Springfield up several notches when it comes to the radar screens of event planners and business owners and managers looking for a place to gather.

MGM Springfield had an unveiling of sorts for the meeting and event spaces earlier this month, revealing photos and details of some of the rooms. Officials there have been offering tours this spring and summer to event planners and other groups, but thus far it has mostly kept those spaces under wraps.

What’s becoming clear, though, is that what’s under those wraps is spacious, unique, and versatile, and that, collectively, the facilities provide Greater Springfield with a great opportunity to attract more events of all kinds. Already, there has been considerable interest, said Messier.

“We’re working with hundreds of groups already, and we’re in the process of trying to get as many groups as we can under contract,” she explained, adding that, while she couldn’t name clients that have signed on, there is a mix of groups and companies from within the 413 and outside it as well. “I think we’ll see quite a few new faces coming into downtown Springfield with all the different groups that have already shown interest in us here.”

In all, there will be 34,000 square feet of event and meeting spaces at the casino complex. There will also be abundant natural light and a host of indoor and outdoor options.

“We’re working with hundreds of groups already, and we’re in the process of trying to get as many groups as we can under contract. I think we’ll see quite a few new faces coming into downtown Springfield with all the different groups that have already shown interest in us here.”

Many of the individual facilities will incorporate the names of some of MGM’s sister properties in an effort to highlight the resort’s connection to other top destinations around the country.

There’s the 10,600-square-foot Aria Ballroom, a nod to the resort and casino in Las Vegas that opened in 2009; the smaller (5,600-square-foot) Bellagio Boardroom, named after another MGM property on the Vegas strip; the 1,000-square-foot Borgota Meeting Room, named after the Borgata Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City; and the 1,000-square-foot Beau Rivage Boardroom, a nod to the MGM property in Biloxi, Miss.

There will also be the renovated former National Guard Armory (most recently used as the South End Community Center) that will offer a unique, 4,800-square-foot room that will enable the groups that book it to stretch their imaginations and create an environment to suit their specific needs.

“This is a gorgeous, open area,” she told BusinessWest. “Groups can have high-end functions there; we can seat about 200 people banquet-style.”

Overall, the collection of spaces, coupled with the many attractions at MGM Springfield — from the casino floor itself to the Regal Cinemas complex, 10-lane bowling alley and arcade, TopGolf Swing Suite, and a variety of restaurants — will undoubtedly catch the eye of groups staging conventions, companies looking for team-building options, and a host of other constituencies.

For this issue and its focus on meetings and conventions, BusinessWest takes an inside look (not really, but it’s close) at the array of spaces at MGM Springfield and how they are expected to change the landscape when it comes to the all-important conventions business.

Space Exploration

Messier told BusinessWest that she and her sales staff will be selling the collective space at MGM Springfield and the MassMutual Center as a “campus,” because that’s truly what it is — one that boasts everything from a sports arena capable of seating nearly 10,000 people and huge convention spaces, to the hotel, its 252 rooms, 16 suites, and assorted ballrooms, boardrooms, and restaurants; from an open-air plaza inspired, Messier said, by the classic New England town common, named Armory Square, to the bowling alley and movie theaters.

Most groups won’t need all that, but it’s there if they need it, she went on, adding that just beyond this campus are more hotels and restaurants, performance venues including Symphony Hall and CityStage, and attractions ranging from Six Flags to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Put it all together and it’s a fairly easy package to sell, she went on, adding that a number of groups and events have already been scheduled.

“We did a tour yesterday for an association that’s looking at us for April, along with another that’s looking at us for 2022,” she said. “We have business that runs the gamut, from short-term, coming in in September, to a year out, to five years out.”

And there has already been a wide range of different types of events scheduled, she on, listing everything from that first wedding to this fall’s annual Bright Nights Ball, to take place in the Aria Ballroom, to a host of meetings and conventions.

In designing the spaces, MGM wanted to capture the flavor of Las Vegas and other gaming and convention hot spots, not just with the names on the venues, but with their luxurious look and feel and also the way they promote collaboration, interaction, and productivity, said Messier, adding quickly that there are considerable amounts of local flavor and personal touches.

The hotel was designed in a way that recognizes Springfield’s industrial roots, she noted, while eclectic artwork evokes this region’s creative iconography, visually referencing Dr. Seuss, Emily Dickinson, and Merriam-Webster Dictionary, among others.

The spaces will also be adaptable, she said, adding that while the Aria ballroom can hold up to 540 and the Ballagio up to 360, they can be configured to seat smaller gatherings.

‘Adaptable’ is also a word that can be used to describe the former Armory.

All of the meeting spaces are on the second floor of the hotel, and running the full length of those spaces is a terrace that looks out on Armory Square, with the Armory itself in the middle of the plaza, she explained, adding that these views are still another selling point when it comes to this campus.

“When you walk through our space, the whole terrace is open, and natural light floods in,” she said. “It’s an amazing view of the whole property.”

Messier said the collection of facilities within the campus she described will be especially appealing to business groups and individual companies.

Indeed, the various spaces can be utilized for everything from product showcases to annual retreats and sales meetings; from those increasingly popular team-building exercises to gatherings to entertain and recognize clients, vendors, and employees.

Bottom Line

Summing up what’s she’s seeing and hearing on the phone — from potential clients, her sales staff, and that couple getting married at MGM in a few months — Messier said the City of Homes and the region surrounding it are gaining the attention of a wide range of constituencies.

“I feel like there is revitalized interest in coming to Springfield,” she said. “With all the great attractions we already have in the area, for clients to be able to book here, bring their clients here, bring their salespeople here, bring their company outings here … it’s a classic win/win for people.”

As she mentioned earlier, it’s quite an attractive package, and one that’s already starting to sell itself.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Opinion

Editorial

As you read this, the countdown clock at MGM Springfield is inside 50 days.

Which means that, in essence, the nearly $1 billion project that has dominated the local landscape, literally and figuratively, for the better part of seven years, is essentially done. Just as Union Station is done and the massive I-91 reconstruction project is done.

And soon, there will be a number of other initiatives in the proverbial ‘done’ pile, including Stearns Square, the innovation center, Riverfront Park, an extensive renovation of the Basketball Hall of Fame, and others, with the acknowledgement that ‘soon’ is a relative term.

That’s a lot of things to get done, and the city should be proud of all that has been accomplished and how the landscape has been dramatically altered for the better — much better.

The question of ‘what now?’ has been tossed around for a while now, and while such talk might be a little premature — after all, it will take some time for MGM Springfield, Union Station, and other initiatives to really be done and have those facilities fully assimilated — but in most ways, it isn’t.

There are certainly things the city has to do to as part of that assimilation process and as part of building off the momentum that’s been generated. That list includes everything from creation of new market-rate housing in the downtown to a remaking of Tower Square into something much more vibrant and relevant, to some aggressive marketing of the city and its comeback story.

And in some ways, work on all those initiatives is already underway.

But Springfield has another big and important challenge facing it, and that is to revitalize many of its proud neighborhoods — to take the progress beyond downtown, if you will.

This is, in many ways, more difficult than any of the projects undertaken thus far, and that’s with the acknowledgement that it took 40 years or more to revitalize Union Station and for the largest development project in the city’s history (MGM) to revitalize the South End.

That’s because rejuvenating neighborhoods like Old Hill, Mason Square, the North End, and the South End are difficult undertakings, especially in these changing times and continued rough going for most old manufacturing centers, like Springfield.

There has been some progress made, though the efforts of local, state, and national initiatives and the of work nonprofit agencies ranging from DevelopSpringfield to Wayfinders, from Revitalize CDC to ROCA. But many of Springfield’s neighborhoods still rank among the poorest in the state, and progress has come very, very slowly.

This isn’t exactly a news flash, but Springfield’s neighborhoods are truly the city’s next big challenge. If this community is to make a real comeback, the good news has to extend beyond Main and State streets.

For the comeback to spread to those neighborhoods, there must be opportunites — or more opportunities, as the case may be — for employment, home ownership, and new-business development. As we said, there has already been some progress made on these fronts, but more extensive efforts are required in order to keep these neighborhoods from being left behind.

A few paragraphs ago, we referred to Springfield’s proud neighborhoods. You almost always see that adjective used in that context, and for a reason. Residents of these areas are proud of their neighborhood, although in many cases, they’re proud of what they once were, not what they are now.

Creating far greater use of the present tense when it comes to these neighborhoods and ‘good times’ is clearly the next big challenge for Springfield.