Page 12 - BusinessWest July 20, 2020
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IRegion Needs MGM Open for Business
John Gormally [email protected]
George O’Brien [email protected]
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 f you read between the lines when scanning or listening to taurants, bus companies, tourist attractions, and other businesses, the comments made by MGM Springfield officials in the have been crippled by this. And the announcement that there will run-up to the reopening of the facility this week, it’s easy be no Big E this fall dealt that sector another huge blow.
to see that they have some real concerns about whether the We’re not sure how much reopening MGM Springfield will help
restrictions they’ve been placed under will enable them to suc- ceed.
“We’re excited to be here in this moment,” Chris Kelley, presi- dent and COO told members of the press being given a tour of the pandemic-adjusted facilities. “We have significant occupancy con- straints that the business will be opening with, but we approach this moment with gratitude for the opportunity to serve our guests and this community again.”
We’re not sure how much gratitude, but we are sure that these occupancy constraints and other restrictions, put in place to keep guests and employees safe, are going to present stern challenges for the casino operators.
Roughly two-thirds of the slot machines will be disabled in the name of social distancing; many table games, including roulette, craps, and poker, will be shut down; capacity in the restaurants will also be limited, again in a nod to social distancing; the bars will be closed and drinking will be limited to those playing the games that are still open; large gatherings, such as concerts and shows, are still prohibited.
Add it all up, and then add in the cost of retrofitting the casino for play in the middle of a pandemic, and it’s fair to wonder wheth- er opening is even a sound business decision given the high over- head at such facilities. That question remains to be answered.
What isn’t in doubt, though, is whether the city and the region need this facility open for business. To that question, there is a resounding ‘yes.’
Indeed, the tourism industry has been absolutely battered by the pandemic, perhaps harder than any other sector. Hotels, res-
those businesses — many visitors to the casino don’t make any other stops before or after they do their gambling — but any help would certainly be appreciated.
There’s also the support the casino provides to other businesses, especially its vendors. We’ve written much over the past few years about how important MGM’s business is to these vendors — from the sign makers to the dry cleaners — and the trickle-down, while limited in some respects, is very real.
And then, there’s the psychological factor. Much of Main Street in Springfield was shut down by the pandemic, from shops to res- taurants to businesses in the office towers. It’s starting to come back somewhat, with outdoor restaurants on Fort Street, Worthing- ton Street, and by One Financial Plaza, and the office towers slowly (as in SLOWLY) but surely coming back to life.
MGM is another, very important, piece of the puzzle. With the casino again welcoming guests, Springfield, the region, will seem all the more open for business after a dreadful spring.
We’re under no delusions here. Reopening MGM is not going to dramatically alter the fate of many of the businesses that have been decimated by the pandemic. But it might provide a spark — anoth- er spark to be more precise — as the region tries to fight its way out of a disaster unlike anything it’s ever seen.
MGM’s managers are certainly not thrilled with the hand they’ve dealt, as they say in this business, but perhaps they can do some- thing with it, show they can operate safely, and eventually build their capacity back up. In the meantime, the city and the region get another boost when they so badly need one. u
  For Colleges, the Sternest of Tests
As the calendar turns to late July, area colleges and universities are getting set to welcome students back for a fall semester that will, like the spring semester before it, be unlike any they’ve ever experienced.
It will be that way for the students, but also for the institutions themselves as they try to cope with a pandemic that is testing them in every way imaginable, starting with the not-so-simple task of simply reopening.
Indeed, there are a number of strategies being deployed by the schools in this region and well beyond — everything from mostly or entirely online (something many com- munity colleges are favoring) to in-class- room learning, to an increasingly popular hybrid approach that blends both (see story on page 17).
And there are twists on those themes, such as UMass offering online education in all programs, but also giving students the option of living on campus — with a whole lot of rules that will have to be followed in an attempt to keep people safe from the virus.
But as schools scramble to reopen, deep-
question — just what is a college education? Is it merely gaining skills that could enable one to succeed in the workplace? Or is it much more?
er discussions are taking place — or should be taking place — about how the pandemic may bring about systemic change in how colleges provide an education to students.
With that, we return to those reopen- ing strategies, because they provide ample evidence of an ongoing debate concerning what’s important to students and what a college education is or should be.
Many are of the opinion that in-person, in-the-classroom learning is critical and
more effective than online, or remote, learning, and this is why some colleges are working diligently to maintain this element, even during a pandemic. Meanwhile, others consider the campus experience an integral part of a college education.
This leads to the larger question — just what is a college education? Is it merely gaining skills that could enable one to suc- ceed in the workplace? Or is it much more? Is it also about making lifelong friendships, learning about people and about life, work- ing in a collaborative environment, and, yes, going to parties and football games and concerts?
The easy answer is that it’s all these things. The challenge for each institution is figuring out how to provide the best mix of all that to its students. As the story on page 17 makes clear, no two strategies among the region’s schools are exactly the same, and that makes the fall semester a fascinating experiment — one higher-ed leaders prom- ise to take lessons from, even as they hope for a more traditional fall of 2021. v
This leads to the larger
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