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West Side voters squelch Hard Rock’s act

Sept. 13, 2013
<b>Tim Maland, Hard Rock New England president and Gene Cassidy, president and CEO of the Eastern States Exposition, addressed the crowd at the Dante Club on Sept. 10.</b> <br>Reminder Publications photo Carley Dangona

Tim Maland, Hard Rock New England president and Gene Cassidy, president and CEO of the Eastern States Exposition, addressed the crowd at the Dante Club on Sept. 10.
Reminder Publications photo Carley Dangona

By Carley Dangona


WEST SPRINGFIELD – After its proposal was defeated, Hard Rock New England (HRNE) will remain a pipedream, but is Hard Rock International done in Massachusetts? Maybe not.

According to HRNE President Tim Maland, the company may scout other parts of Massachusetts for hotel, resort or entertainment locations, but no formal plans have been made.

The special referendum took place on Sept. 10, just three days prior to the opening of the 2013 Big E. Voter turnout reached gubernatorial election levels, with the “No” vote winning by just 10 percent. The final vote was 55 percent against and 45 percent in favor. Thus, a casino will not be the newest attraction at the Big E.

“My main thought is, when residents come before the council saying they need money for this or money for that, I’m going to tell them to go ask the ‘no’ voters for it,” District 1 Councilor Angus Rushlow – the very district in which the casino would have been constructed, voted all in favor of the proposal – said.

“They can say anything they want and there’s no repercussions for it. Ninety percent of the stuff they presented was falsehoods – what I refer to as fear mongers. They were sending out the word, scaring the people,” Rushlow said.

The councilor explained he’s a person not a politician and that he was raised to tell the truth even if it gets him in trouble. It’s important for him to be up front with voters so they know what’s truly going on in the community.

Rushlow described his reaction to the vote as “disgusted.” He stated residents that voted in favor of the HRNE proposals are the ones who attended the meetings and open houses.

He added, “People didn’t investigate it to find out what it was. They had their own opinion and they listened to the fear mongers that presented a lot of half-truths. Maybe that’s what’s wrong with our economy and our whole way now. People are too self-centered, assuming that they are right on everything rather than investigating the facts. It makes me think of the 1950s when they referred to people being ‘sheeple’ because they were so easily led.”

Rushlow predicted that if MGM Springfield were awarded the gaming contract, then the Big E would start to suffer within five years of that casino being built.

Brian Griffin, Town Council vice president and chair of its Casino Mitigation subcommittee, said, “The will of the people have spoken and that’s what I have to abide by. [We] will turn our interest right back to the mitigation with the surrounding communities.”

When asked what went wrong, Maland responded, “I don’t know.” He remained proud of the campaign for the proposal and said he wouldn’t have done anything differently.

“[Voters] have decided that they do not want a casino in West Springfield, and we have to respect that. There’s no hard feelings there,” Maland said. When asked what’s next for him, Maland said, he would return to Reno, Nev. and look for other [job] opportunities.

President and CEO of the Eastern States Exposition Gene Cassidy addressed the crowd of supporters gathered at the Dante Club, “Unfortunately the dream and the goal isn’t meant to be.” He thanked them for their support and said that the town will move forward, looking back without regret.

Cassidy told Reminder Publications, “At this point, I’m not sure it’s fully settled in. I had thought going into it that there was going to be a good margin win. I am stunned to see the margin that it lost by.”

He explained that he remains concerned for the Big E’s ability to compete, especially if the Massachusetts Gaming Commission awards the contract to MGM Springfield. Cassidy said he would continue to reach out to those still in the race, as he has done from the start.

“We’re here. The Big E is the most formidable producer of economic return for the city of Springfield when it comes to tourism dollars. Bar none, we’re the biggest. So, you would hope that would give you a natural segue. To date, that hasn’t happened. I hope in the long run the Eastern States to keep moving under the horsepower it has so it can continue to feed Springfield.”

Cassidy spoke with enthusiasm about the upcoming Big E and insisted the results did not dampen the spirit of the fair.

When asked how he, as a West Side native felt, Cassidy said, “To be honest with you, personally I feel let down. I would have hoped the community would have responded a little bit more positively.”

In the days leading up to the vote, documents filed with the state showed Hard Rock executives spent $935,000 during the period of Feb. 1 to Aug. 24, in expenditures related to the HRNE casino resort proposal as follows: The Bronson Companies LLC, $25,000; Hard Rock International President Jim Allen, $80,000; Suffolk Construction Company, LLC, $25,000; Brad Buchanan, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Seminole Hard Rock Entertainment Inc., $25,000; and Hard Rock Massachusetts LLC, $415,000.

Of that sum, $125,000 went to the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts.

Katie Zobel, president of the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, explained the organization had no ties with Hard Rock, but manages the fundraising account for the rebuilding campaign of the West Springfield Library.

The financial service is something the organization does for “hundreds of nonprofits,” she said.

Zobel noted that out of the multiple gifts, only one donation has actually been received.

She said the Community Foundation is neutral on the casino question.

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