|By Carley Dangona
Mayor Gregory Neffinger
Reminder Publications file photo
WEST SPRINGFIELD During the Jan. 11 press conference where Hard Rock International revealed its plans for a resort casino on the Eastern States Exposition grounds, Mayor Gregory Neffinger announced the formation of his Entertainment and Casino Advisory Board.
Neffinger named himself, George Condon III, town councilor; John Weiss, vice chairman of the License Commission; Harry Kalamarakis, resident; Diane Crowell, former town councilor and prominent member of District 1; Brian Griffin, town councilor; Ed Sullivan, president of the town council at its inception; Todd Newhouse, U.S. attorney; and Jay Lafey, local business owner, as tentative members.
The mayor defined the purpose of the board to investigate the positive and negative impacts of a local casino on traffic, taxes, economic development, public safety, infrastructure and tourism through a collaborative effort of residents, business owners and city council members.
"I want to explore all avenues to be sure that this would be the right fit for the residents of West Springfield," Neffinger said. "The collaboration will demonstrate to the state that we have a united front."
He continued, stating that it will be a "working" panel where each member is assigned a task to research. The board is tasked with a fact-finding mission to define the scope of a possible host-community agreement. The members will work in conjunction with the legal consultants the town hires.
Neffinger explained that the consultants' roles will be two-fold: they will first identify the issues that the town may face if the Hard Rock project comes to fruition and they will field questions from the department heads of the municipality to ensure all concerns are researched.
Town Councilor Brian Griffin said, "Eventually the council's Casino Mitigation Committee will be dissolved since the two [it and the mayor's board] are being combined." He added that the council would establish sub-committees at a later date to review issues such as zoning and referendums.
"I'm looking forward to working with the mayor," Griffin added. "The joint effort is great for the town."
At the time of publication, no date was scheduled for the first meeting of the board.
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