|By Carley Dangona
Residents gathered at West Springfield Middle School on July 31 for the first Hard Rock New England forum since the Host Community Agreement was completed.
Reminder Publications photo by Carley Dangona
WEST SPRINGFIELD – The Hard Rock New England (HRNE) open house offered some new details regarding its resort casino proposal, but the public forum period began after much of the crowd had already left.
However, residents who waited the hour and a half – technical difficulties contributed to the delay – to pose questions did have the full attention of both HRNE and town officials.
The event was the first since the Host Community Agreement was finalized on July 11. The meeting marked the return of Hard Rock International Chair Jim Allen, who led the presentation. In the lobby of West Springfield Middle School prior to the presentation, HRNE unveiled a model of its proposal. Also announced was the first HRNE job fair that will take place on Aug. 24 at West Springfield High School, 425 Piper Road, starting at 9 a.m.
The two main features of the night were a video that gave a virtual, first person tour of the grounds and multiple slides that demonstrated how the video mapping of the ballroom area could accommodate any and every theme – a few slides even showed the “movie screens” decked out in honor of the Big E.
“Hard Rock did not buy, Hard Rock does not own, we don’t have any percentage, we have no involvement in any decision making at the Big E. The board of directors is there and they will be there, we have nothing to with their chart,” Allen said.
He continued, “What they did do is they entered into a 75-year lease for us to lease this parcel of ground right here [he highlighted the Gate 9 area of the Eastern States Exposition (ESE) grounds]. We think that is a particular parcel of ground that other than on significant weekends of the fair is not being used today.”
Allen said he thought the agreement “solidifies” the future of the ESE and provides a possibility for it to expand if the nonprofit show chooses. He said “longevity” was the goal.
Eugene Cassidy, president and CEO of the ESE, stated he was “happy” to see the large turnout of residents and encouraged them to share the information from the forum and to ask the hard questions they wanted answered.
“Hard Rock is an entertainment brand that is far less a casino than anything else. It’s an entertainment company that has a few casinos,” he said, adding that he was “proud” of the ESE affiliation with Hard Rock.
During the presentation, Allen noted that the buildings in the HRNE proposal were placed “as far back” as possible to curb the impact to Memorial Avenue businesses.
In regards to crime, Allen said, “We believe crime will not be a factor.” He said that the criminal impact would be “tremendously reduced” because of the HRNE design. He explained that in downtown areas, like Springfield, criminals can easily hide and get away, but at HRNE, they will end up in a parking lot surveyed by multiple security methods.
Allen addressed property taxes. “We don’t have the ability to lower taxes, nor did we ask or request to dictate where the tax money goes.”
During the public discussion period, the size of the Hard Rock Live venue was questioned. One resident asked why there will be only 3,500 seats, compared to the size of the MassMutual Center in Springfield.
Allen explained two reasons. First he said that if HRNE planned to host large events on the Big E side of the grounds because a large stadium would directly contradict its plans to work in conjunction with the ESE for event planning.
Second, he noted that according to Pollstar, a company that tracks the sales of every musician, “very few shows sell more than 5,000 seats,” with the exception of acts such as Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Madonna and Beyoncé.
When multiple residents asked about directing traffic away from Riverdale Road and side streets, both Mayor Gregory Neffinger and Allen stated that road signs would be added to advise guests. Allen said that direct mailings would also suggest the best route of travel, which will be the U.S. Route 5 access road that HRNE will create. He also said that multiple entries to the site were designed to encourage the use of major routes to alleviate side road congestion.
One resident questioned the clause in the Host Community Agreement that enabled HRNE to renegotiate the payments agreed upon if the Commonwealth changed the tax rate or fees on gaming revenues.
Allen responded, “What we don’t want to do is end up with is what happened at Foxwoods [Resort Casino] and Mohegan [Sun]. They committed these billion of dollars in construction and then when all the changes happened in scope they couldn’t pay their debts and then they went into default.”
He added, “We’re trying to make sure that doesn’t happen so that we can make our commitments to the town based upon the agreement. From our standpoint, we just don’t know what will happen in the future. But, certainly if the law stays as is, then the commitments we represented are in place.”
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